Manitobans 40 and over can now get the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
In a release Monday morning the province said it is lowering the minimum age eligibility following similar moves by Ontario and Alberta.
The change is effective immediately, Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson said.
“Tens of thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine remain in clinics and pharmacies across the province, which is why we’re expanding the eligibility criteria for the vaccine,” said Stefanson in a government release.
“I want to thank physician and pharmacy partners for their work to provide vaccine and look forward to the numbers of doses administered increasing quickly over the coming days.”
Eligible Manitobans can find their nearest clinic or pharmacy with available doses by visiting the province’s website.
Until now, the AstraZeneca vaccine in Manitoba had been available to those 65 and over, and to people between 55 and 64 with certain underlying medical conditions.
Health Canada has approved the vaccine for people under 55, but the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended the shot only be offered to those 55 and older due to a slightly elevated risk of an extremely rare blood clot disorder.
There have been just two cases of blood clots in Canada out of the more than 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca administered so far.
The global frequency of the blood clot disorder, known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia or VITT, has been estimated at about one case in 100,000 to 250,000 doses.
Experts say the risk of developing blood clots due to COVID-19 is much higher, and they encourage people to accept the first vaccine they’re offered.
“Based on all of the evidence available internationally to date, we continue to believe benefits of the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine to protect against COVID-19 outweigh any potential risks,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force.
“Expanding the criteria will help us reach more Manitobans, particularly those who may face challenges or face barriers in going to a super site or pop-up clinic.”
Data from clinical trials showed AstraZeneca was 62 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections, but it prevented death and hospitalization in all participants who got the virus after receiving the vaccine.
Real-world data may also suggest the efficacy of AstraZeneca’s vaccine increases over a longer time interval between the first and second shot. Clinical trials used a four-week span between doses but some countries have been delaying second doses by several weeks.
In Canada, many provinces, including Manitoba, have opted to delay the second dose by four months.
A provincial spokesperson told Global News Monday all 84,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine Manitoba has so far received from the federal government have been shipped to clinics and pharmacies.
Just under 55,000 doses were estimated to be still available as of Monday morning, the spokesperson said.
Age eligibility dropped for super sites, pop-ups
Health officials also dropped the age eligibility for those able to get vaccinated at super sites and pop-up vaccination clinics Monday.
Eligibility has been expanded to include those 54 or older and First Nation people aged 34 and older.
Anyone who has been in Manitoban for one month or longer can also receive their shot at no cost, provided they meet eligibility requirements, the province said.
Appointments are available at super sites in Winnipeg, Brandon, Thompson, Selkirk, and Morden, and pop-up clinics are also scheduled in a number of communities across the province in the coming weeks.
Appointments can be booked online or by calling 1-844-626-822.
The province says focused immunization teams will be giving first-dose immunizations to those living at 27 congregate living facilities this week.
To date 341,926 doses of vaccine have been administered across Manitoba, including 272,104 first doses and 69,822 second doses, according to provincial data.
Manitoba has so far received 486,810 doses of vaccine from the federal government, including 284,310 doses of Pfizer vaccine; 118,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine; and 84,100 doses of the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine.
–With files from The Canadian Press and Brittany Greenslade
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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