Manitoba vaccination timelines improve again as AstraZeneca doses arrive

Manitoba’s COVID-19 immunization timeline continues to improve after the first batch of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in the province.

The first 18,000 doses of the vaccine arrived yesterday and will be distributed to 200 pharmacies and doctor’s offices beginning this week, provincial vaccine task force co-lead Johanu Botha said during a technical briefing for media on Wednesday morning.

Task force officials also say everyone eligible for a vaccine should be able to get at least one dose two weeks sooner than expected earlier.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the task force, and Botha are holding a news conference at 12:30 p.m. CT that’s expected to include more detail about eligibility criteria for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

CBC Manitoba will live stream the news conference here, on CBC Gem and on Facebook and Twitter.

Revised supply projections from the federal government mean that even in a low-dose scenario, Manitobans will be able to get one shot by the middle of June, Botha said at the technical briefing. That improves timelines released last week that had the final first-dose shots being administered at the end of June in the low-supply scenario.

A high-dose scenario remains relatively unchanged; it projects eligible Manitobans will have their first shot by May 21, as opposed to the target announced last week of May 18.

Both timelines would put needles in the arms of younger Manitobans months sooner than previously projected.

Canada’s immunization timelines have undergone a series of revisions in recent weeks as the medical literature evolves and the country receives more options.

Less than two weeks ago, Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for use in all adults.

Eligibility requirements for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine haven’t been released, though health officials suggested the first wave to receive it would likely be people 50-64, possibly specifically those most at risk.

AstraZeneca became the third vaccine in Canada’s arsenal, after the previously approved Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have extreme cold storage requirements and will continue to be given at vaccine supersites and other places with appropriate refrigeration infrastructure, including some First Nations.

One week ago, Manitoba decided to lengthen the time between first and second doses, from a few weeks to up to four months, following in the footsteps of B.C. and other jurisdictions. 

Top provincial health officials have said the latest real-world evidence from multiple countries suggests a single dose provides a higher degree of protection than clinical trials suggested. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization also approves of the move.

Days after the delayed dosing recommendation, Health Canada approved a fourth, single-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. The rollout of that vaccine is still being worked out. Other vaccines are still under review by Health Canada.

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