Manitoba's eligibility for the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine that targets the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has expanded to include anyone over 18, the provincial government announced Wednesday afternoon.
Newly eligible people can start booking appointments to get that updated Moderna vaccine at 9 a.m. on Sept. 22 using the online booking system, a news release says.
For the best immune response, public health officials recommend people wait until at least six months after their last dose before getting the bivalent vaccine.
"We know from the evidence that if you wait a bit longer, that six months duration between your last dose and the booster, you can get a stronger immune response," Roussin said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The minimum interval between a person's last dose and the new bivalent booster is three months.
Bivalent vaccines were initially made available on Sept. 2 to Manitobans 65 and older, and Indigenous people 18 and older.
The bivalent vaccine was developed to provide protection against both the original strain of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
Public health recommends people due for a booster shot opt for the bivalent vaccine instead of a fourth dose of one of the older vaccines.
More than 3,200 doses of the bivalent vaccine have been administered in Manitoba as of Sept. 19, the province said.
"We're not seeing the uptake that we would want right now, and this is fairly similar in multiple jurisdictions," Roussin said. A lag in data entry affects those numbers, too, he said.
An awareness campaign will launch next week, encouraging Manitobans to get their bivalent booster.
"Even if you've had an infection, we still recommend getting those boosters as soon as you become eligible," he said.
When Roussin last addressed the public about COVID, he announced plans to roll out vaccines for kids younger than five but dismissed questions about expanding eligibility for second boosters beyond those 50 and older or anyone who is First Nations, Inuit or Métis and at least 30.
He is now recommending adults due for a booster shot opt for the bivalent vaccine instead of a fourth dose of one of the older vaccines.
Atwal gave a vaccine update earlier this month, when he announced eligibility for the bivalent vaccine and fourth dose monovalent eligibility for people 12 and older.
Roussin recommends that those age 12 to 17 get a fourth dose of the original vaccine instead of waiting for bivalent eligibility to expand again. Health Canada has only authorized the bivalent version for those 18 and older.
At the time, Atwal strongly suggested that those who were not yet eligible for the bivalent booster delay getting another shot until they were eligible because of the broader coverage the updated vaccine offers.
The delay contradicted the province's repeated messaging throughout the pandemic to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Asked about that, Atwal said at the time that the focus was on helping those at highest risk of severe outcomes from COVID.
"There's such a focus on infection right now occurring but it's OK to get infected. You're building your natural immunity, so that's good. Most people will get an infection. Most Manitobans have had a COVID infection and most Manitobans have done well."
Some medical professionals quickly spoke up after Atwal's comments, saying his words minimized the risk of COVID-19 infection, which is not "helpful to people as they try to navigate what personal decisions are right for them."