Manitoba improving COVID-19 vaccine accessibility to give more people their first doses

The Manitoba government has announced new strategies to improve the accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccine to encourage more residents to get their first dose.

The province announced the new initiatives on Wednesday, saying the strategies are about recontextualizing and progressing the work the province has already been doing. These strategies include mobile pop-up clinics, community-hosted clinics, independent immunization partners, and distributing mRNA vaccines to clinics and pharmacies.

"First doses remain critical to reopening plans in Manitoba, so now is the time for us to take more steps to make to even easier for people to get their first dose," said Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of Manitoba's Vaccine Implementation Task Force.

Reimer said the majority of protection against COVID-19 comes from the first dose of the vaccine.

The province noted these new initiatives will run in conjunction with the supersites, where a large majority of people are getting their vaccines.

“I think there are many reasons for why individuals may be hesitant to receive the vaccine or why they face barriers to accessing a vaccine,” said Johanu Botha, co-lead of Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force.

He added that supersites are not being used as actively by the remaining Manitobans who don’t have their first dose.

“It’s really that levelling off of first-dose bookings,” Botha said.

As of Wednesday, 66 per cent of adult Manitobans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Botha said the province is still expecting to have second doses to 70 per cent of Manitobans by July.

POP-UP CLINICS

The Manitoba government said it will continue to improve geographical access to the vaccines through pop-up clinics and mobile clinics, which will be starting this week.

Botha said part of the pop-up clinics will include a pilot project mobile van going into communities where people may be less likely to get to the clinics and reaching out to these people.

He said the mobile van will be starting as of Wednesday, and said it will be focused on urban areas of the city where there are under-housed people.

"We will see how that goes and hopefully we can expand on that piece," Botha said.

The province noted these clinics will improve accessibility by increasing options for those who face barriers when it comes to travelling to supersites.

Pop-up clinics will continue to expand to new locations across the province.

COMMUNITY-HOSTED CLINICS

Manitoba health officials said in the coming weeks, the province will begin community-hosted vaccine clinics.

These are clinics where community organizations and businesses provide outreach, host the clinics, and help with setting up the site. A clinical team will still provide the immunization services.

The province didn’t have specific examples of community organizations hosting these clinics, but said some options would be large employers or schools.

"This really comes out of the consultation that we're doing with a variety of communities where we've seen the uptake is lower than the average for Manitoba," Reimer said.

"We are taking direction from the community leaders as far as where the best location is for these sites."

Manitoba added if there is a lot of interest in these clinics, it will want to get started in places where there are lower vaccination rates or where more people would be able to come.

Reimer said more details about the community-hosted clinics will be released in the future.

INDEPENDENT IMMUNIZATION PARTNERS

The province said independent immunization partners will be able to order and administer vaccines based on their needs, noting that more information on this process will soon be shared with the sites.

Manitoba noted that this strategy includes home visits for those who can’t leave their homes, and improves accessibility by providing more timely administration of vaccines by site.

PHARMACY AND CLINIC DISTRIBUTION

This week, about 25 medical clinics and pharmacies will receive about 5,000 mRNA vaccines, which can be used for first or second doses.

The province noted that a weekly allocation will be available to all participating partners, which includes more than 500 sites, but locations and the amount of vaccine will vary.

The Manitoba government said this will improve accessibility by having the vaccines in known and trusted locations.