Amid shrinking access and demand, a Winnipeg doctor is urging Manitobans to get their bivalent COVID-19 vaccine as the highly infectious XBB.1.5 subvariant spreads across North America.
The new hybrid, a recombinant Omicron variant dubbed the “Kraken,” is expected to bring a surge of breakthrough cases to the province.
“We have to anticipate its arrival in the next few weeks to months,” Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a St. Boniface Hospital medical microbiologist, said Friday.
The subvariant is proving to evade antibodies in people who have both infection and vaccine-based immunity, said Lagacé-Wiens, who also serves as an assistant professor in medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba.
“As long as people are immunized and remain immune and have their boosters, they’re not very likely to get extremely sick, unless they have some risk factors associated with that (infection) … being very elderly or having immunocompromising conditions,” he said.
“If you’ve not had a recent infection or not had a recent vaccine, you should get your bivalent booster doses as soon as you can.”
Provincial data shows vaccine uptake is slowing down. The latest report released Friday suggests 17.5 per cent of eligible Manitobans have gotten a bivalent vaccine.
Nearly 21 per cent have received a COVID vaccine in the last six months, while over the last two weeks of December, 38 Manitobans died with the virus in their system.
“We have to keep reminding people that vaccines still remain effective against severe illness regardless of the variant that we’re talking about, and remind people that a recent vaccination also protects you fairly well from any kind of infection,” he said.
The provincial vaccine clinic on Notre Dame Avenue in Winnipeg is the last major site taking appointments, a provincial spokesperson told Global News. A number of popups are still being operated across Manitoba, they said.
“Since the spring of 2021, when the province first piloted the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine to medical clinics and pharmacies, local health-care professionals have been important and effective partners in COVID-19 vaccine distribution,” the spokesperson said.
However, some pharmacies, such as the one at Shoppers Drug Mart in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village, are cutting back their vaccine clinic hours substantially because of low demand. The clinic, which used to be open seven days a week before the holidays, now opens its doors on Saturdays and Sundays only.
Others, like Medi-Care Pharmacy on Main Street, no longer carry COVID-19 vaccines.
At least 50 Manitoba doctors’ offices are still offering bivalent vaccines, Doctors Manitoba told Global News in an emailed statement on Sunday.
“We encourage Manitobans to call their family doctor’s office as a start to see if they can get their COVID booster and/or flu shot, and if not (there), to try one of the dozens of clinics accepting public vaccine appointments around Manitoba,” the organization said.
“Over 95 per cent of doctors have received or are planning on receiving their fall COVID booster and their flu shot,” the group said in a fall news release.
“This demonstrates the confidence physicians have in the influenza and COVID vaccines and why we recommend them to our patients,” Doctors Manitoba president Dr. Candace Bradshaw said in the release.
Lagacé-Wiens said he hopes there will be a renewed push encouraging Manitobans to roll up their sleeves.
“We’ll be protecting ourselves and protecting our health-care system as well.”