Youth vaccination ticks upward ahead of back-to-school deadline but more needed: Dr. Reimer

Vaccine uptake among Manitoba youth increased after the medical lead on the province’s task force noted a July 27 deadline to ensure full immunization before school starts, but Dr. Joss Reimer says more people still need to get the shot ahead of a potential fourth wave of COVID-19.

“We haven’t yet hit the point of that textbook herd immunity, where we have so much protection that the virus can’t circulate,” Reimer said in an interview on CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio on Tuesday.

As of Monday, 78.7 per cent of eligible Manitobans had received one dose of a vaccine, and 66.5 per cent had two, according to provincial data.

The province must reach a minimum of vaccinating 80 per cent of eligible people to achieve herd immunity, Reimer said, although that number might be higher, as the effectiveness of the vaccines against more contagious variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 remains to be determined.

“And until we hit much higher numbers, we expect that the virus will be present in Manitoba.”

Last week, Reimer called on youth between the age of 12 and 17 and their parents to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by this week, or risk sending their kids back to school without maximum protection.

WATCH | Dr. Reimer discusses back-to-school vaccination deadlines on July 21:

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, said children aged 12-17 should have their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July 27 in order to allow enough time between first and second doses, as well as enough time after the second dose, before school starts up again in the fall. 0:45

Because the province requires 28 days between a first and second dose, a young person who got their first shot Tuesday wouldn’t be able to get their second until around Aug. 24.

It takes on average about 14 days from a second dose before maximum immunity is reached, which would mean anyone with two doses by Aug. 24 would have their strongest protection around Sept. 7 — the first day of the 2021-22 school year.

Last resort

As uptake of the vaccine has slowed, the focus of the province’s vaccination campaign is shifting from mass immunization centres to community outreach. Reimer says the province hasn’t ruled out making vaccines mandatory, but that would be a last resort.

“We are in a pandemic and sometimes we have to go with those difficult last resorts. So this is something that the government is going to have to think about very carefully,” she said.

Among the 10-19 age group, 51.7 per cent have received at least one dose, according to the Manitoba government’s online dashboard. Only people 12 and older are currently eligible to receive the vaccine.

Vaccine uptake across the province is uneven, with some health districts well below the target threshold. The health district of Stanley, which surrounds the southern Manitoba cities of Winkler and Morden, has a first-dose vaccination rate of 20.7 per cent. Winkler is at 38.7 per cent, while Morden has a first-dose rate of 66 per cent.

When the fourth wave of the pandemic arrives — likely to happen in the fall —  it will hit hardest in areas with low vaccine uptake, Reimer said.

“We want people to have as many tools as possible to protect themselves so that we don’t see people ending up in the hospital and certainly don’t see them dying when this next wave comes.”

On Monday, Manitoba reported its lowest one-day number of new cases since September, with 11 new cases. 

Contact tracing shift

As the number of COVID-19 cases keep falling, Manitoba may start to concentrate its contact tracing efforts, Reimer said.

“We know that those severe outcomes will go down, and so we’ll have to think about, do we continue to do case and contact management the same way we are now, where we investigate every single individual — or do we focus more on things like outbreaks or vulnerable populations?”

Trials are ongoing to test the effectiveness and safety of existing vaccines for children under 12.

Reimer expects October would be the earliest that vaccines might become available for that age group, although it could be longer before Health Canada gives its approval.

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