The province says more than 10 per cent of all eligible Manitobans have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force is stopping all appointments for the AstraZeneca vaccine for people younger than 55 years old and older than 64. This move is happening Canada-wide.
"This is a pause while we wait for more information to better understand what we are seeing in Europe," Dr. Joss Reimer says in a Monday press conference. "This is an important and evidence-based change that Manitoba is putting in place, today. We have to respond to what we know when we know it in this vaccine campaign."
Weighing the risks and benefits, the province is pulling back on the AstraZeneca/COVIShield from Oxford University. This is due to concerns being seen in Europe, particularly for young women. They have found in early data coming out of Europe that approximately one in one hundred thousand people could experience rare and serious side effects of blood clotting and low platelet levels in young women.
"The symptoms can mirror the symptoms of a stroke or heart attack," Reimer says. "To date, we have not seen any of these cases in Manitoba nor in Canada."
With at least 14,000 of the 18,000 AstraZeneca given by pharmacies and doctor's clinics to priority groups, Reimer says Manitobans may be concerned about vaccines.
"I know this can be very disappointing news to people who were expecting to receive the vaccine. We want this to be done in the safest way possible. If you have already received the vaccine, the AstraZeneca or COVIShield vaccine, it is likely that you have questions, you may have concerns related to this announcement."
The serious reaction could occur within the first four to 20 days following receiving the vaccine. Europe has found that the reaction occurs in people who do not have a history of blood clots.
Reimer says at this point there are many questions left to be answered and they do not have the data they need.
Reimer says she needs to know the frequency of these incidents. She also says since young women are more likely to work in healthcare than men, it might affect more than one demographic.
"We really are in that race in those variants of concern and the rollout of our vaccines," Dr. Brent Roussin says.
The Chief Public health Officer wants to see Manitobans quickly vaccinated before the COVID-19 variants become the main strain. Reimer says uptake is "overwhelmingly positive" as centres such as the Keystone Centre in Brandon quickly fill appointments. In Winnipeg, the RBC Centre's supersite saw large delays Friday.
"It became clear that there were a number of challenges that resulted in people waiting a significant amount of time for their appointments. This led to lineups and frustration. This is not the experience we wanted people to have," Reimer says, apologizing to those who waited.
Reimer says those booking tests work with people's personal schedules to make appointments at varying times, including evenings. Some of the delays Friday resulted in people leaving the centre. Reimer says everyone who stayed received a COVID-19 vaccine.
The latest round of general population vaccinations is lowering the age to 64 years old, or 44 years old in the First Nation population.