Grocery store, restaurant workers in Manitoba’s COVID-19 hot spots eligible for vaccines as of Friday

People working in Manitoba restaurants, grocery stores, and schools are among front-line workers in high-risk communities who will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine starting Friday. 

New details about the plan to extend eligibility to anyone over 18 living in certain geographic areas with high rates of transmission or serious illness, as well as people working in certain front-line jobs in those areas, were released Wednesday.

Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead for the province’s vaccine task force, said a number of factors went into deciding which jobs would get priority.

Using data from the pandemic’s second and third waves, starting in October, the task force looked at whether certain workforces face greater risk from COVID-19 in specific geographical areas.

“For some of the professions, there was very clear data showing that they have experienced higher rates of transmission as well as severe health outcomes,” Reimer said at a news conference Wednesday.

Another factor was the goal of preventing further transmission in particular settings.

“And so jobs where we see a lot of interactions with the public could be an area we want to target in order to reduce the height of Wave 3,” she said.

WATCH | Dr. Joss Reimer on what factors went into choosing vaccine access for people working front-line jobs:

People working in front-line jobs — including at restaurants, grocery stores and schools — in communities with higher risk of COVID-19 will be eligible for a vaccine starting Friday, says Dr. Joss Reimer. 1:07

The list of workers who will get priority access include people who work:

  • At a school.
  • As a child-care or daycare provider.
  • In a food processing facility, including as a food inspector.
  • As a public health inspector or workplace safety and health officer.
  • At a grocery store, convenience store or retail gas location.
  • Anywhere that serves or provides food, including restaurants, food banks and soup kitchens.

As was the case when health-care workers became eligible, staff booking appointments and administering vaccines will ask for such proof of employment, such as workplace ID and letters from employers, but in some cases will simply ask people to assert that they work in an eligible workplace.

As more vaccines become available, other categories of workers may be added to the list, Reimer said.

The province also announced last week that all front-line police officers and firefighters would become eligible for a vaccine. Those first responders became eligible to book appointments at Wednesday. 

WATCH | Reimer on how vaccine task force is selecting top priority Manitoba hot spots:

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, said Wednesday the task force will look at second- and third-wave epidemiology when determining which regions will get priority access to COVID-19 vaccines. 1:19

That includes an estimated 2,400 front-line police officers and 4,700 firefighters, including volunteer firefighters.

The province initially planned to release the list of hot-spot communities Wednesday, but wanted a statistician to review the data. That list is now expected to be released on Friday.

Decisions about which areas will be given priority access will be based primarily on previous rates of COVID-19 transmission, as well as population density, the proportion of racialized populations, average income, and an assessment of housing, Reimer said.

Vaccination timelines changed

The announcement comes as a third wave of the pandemic threatens to overtake Manitoba’s vaccine efforts.

On Wednesday, 164 new COVID-19 cases were announced, including 76 in Winnipeg. The Seven Oaks, Fort Garry and St. Vital areas had the highest numbers of active cases in Winnipeg, according to the province’s online dashboard.

Due to the volatility of the supply of Moderna vaccines, as well as updated delivery estimates from the federal government, Manitoba has adjusted its timelines for when all adult Manitobans should be able to get a first dose.

Both the high- and low-supply projections now estimate the youngest cohorts should be eligible by early June, with the high-supply scenario complete by June 5, and the low-supply by June 9. 

There are no confirmed shipments of Moderna vaccine beyond the week of April 26, and no confirmed shipments of AstraZeneca-Oxford. Shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, however, are expected to ramp up to more than 87,000 doses per week by late May.

People who receive a dose of the other vaccines should not worry about a second dose not being available in the future, according to Johanu Botha, the vaccination task force’s operations lead.

“I want to be very clear that the supply chain pressures that we’re feeling at the moment is a short- to medium-term pressure,” he said at Wednesday’s news conference.

“All the signals from the federal government has been very clear that every one of these vaccines will see a stable and robust supply chain going forward.”

So far, 27.3 per cent of Manitobans 18 and older have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

People can now start booking appointments at Winnipeg’s second vaccine supersite, which is set to open on May 7 at the Winnipeg Soccer Federation’s north facility, at 770 Leila Ave.

As of Wednesday, all Manitobans 50 and older, and First Nations people 30 and older, are eligible for any of the currently approved vaccines.

However, anyone age 40 and older can receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine through appointments at medical clinics and pharmacies, the province announced on Monday. A map on the government website shows sites that are booking vaccination appointments.

Previously, only people 55 to 64 with certain health conditions, and those 65 and older, could get the AstraZeneca shot. Reimer said the task force hasn’t decided yet whether people under 40 with underlying health conditions will be made eligible.

WATCH | Task force hasn’t made decisions on whether underlying health conditions will affect vaccine access, Reimer says:

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, said Wednesday the task force has not yet determined whether to grant higher priority vaccine access to Manitobans under 40 with underlying health conditions. 0:57

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