COVID-19 Update – January 18

Situation Update

Since our last update on Friday, 484 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified, including 118 today. This brings the total case count in Manitoba to 27,629.

The five-day test positivity rate is 10.6%, up from 10% on Friday. It is 7.3% in Winnipeg.

There are currently 3,108 active COVID-19 cases, up from 2,907. This includes 289 COVID patients in hospital today, up from 284, with 35 patients in ICU.

Over 70% of active cases are among First Nations individuals, both on- and off-reserve.

Nearly half (47%) of all active cases right now are in Northern Manitoba, with 29% in Winnipeg and the remainder in rural regions. Lynn Lake has imposed a curfew to help curb the spread of the virus, after more than a quarter of the town has been infected. An outbreak has been declared at the Lynn Lake Hospital.

You can learn more in today’s public health bulletin.

Dr. Brent Roussin said an update on public health restrictions will come later this week, but that Manitobans should expect a cautious and gradual approach.

Vaccine Recommendations

Today, we released the results from our survey of physicians about the vaccine, along with five recommendations about how doctors can help to improve the provincial immunization rollout. You may have seen this on the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press today. We have a summary below, along with the response we’ve heard today from provincial officials.

Based on physicians’ advice, we made the following recommendations:

  1. Accept help from physicians to immunize more Manitobans. Half (49%) of physicians are interested in helping the immunization campaign in provincial “super sites” or mobile immunization teams. Over 110 have already offered to help.
  2. Be more transparent about prioritization and eligibility. Like other jurisdictions, Manitoba should publish a complete eligibility list indicating the order in which different priority groups will be eligible. Right now, the near-daily changes to eligibility are creating unnecessary confusion, stress, and uncertainty about “who comes next.” More transparency about the full prioritized plan for eligibility—along with the full membership of the provincial vaccine implementation task force making these decisions—will bolster physician and public confidence in the process.
  3. Enlist physicians to help identify Manitobans who should be immunized first. While the province is equipped to identify individuals who may be more at risk for severe illness due to their age, doctors are best positioned to identify patients at increased risk because of medical conditions or social factors.
  4. Plan now for offering the vaccine in doctors’ offices when supplies allow. 82% of family physicians are interested in administering the vaccine in their practice as well as 30% of specialists. A recent Angus Reid poll found that doctors’ offices are the top choice for where individuals want to get the vaccine. However, this will be more complicated than an annual flu shot campaign, and more detailed planning will be needed to ensure the province and doctors are ready for this when vaccine supplies increase.
  5. Partner with physicians to address vaccine hesitancy. Manitobans have questions about these new vaccines. They trust their doctor, who knows their personal medical history, to support them in making a decision about getting immunized. Doctors want more information about the vaccines and advice about responding to vaccine hesitancy. Doctors Manitoba can work with experts on resources and education for physicians.The survey, which included over 500 responses, found that physicians overwhelmingly support the new vaccines and would recommend them to their patients.

We have shared these recommendations and the survey results with provincial officials. Today, our President Dr. Cory Baillie, spent much of the day doing media interviews to bring physicians’ views on the vaccine to Manitobans.

You can read the full survey report here.

Provincial Response

During a media briefing today, Dr. Joss Reimer, Medical Lead on the provincial vaccine implementation task force, said they are “very excited to see the results of the survey and how supportive doctors are of the vaccine.”

Doctors Manitoba staff have met with provincial representatives to start planning how physicians can support the immunization rollout, which is in-line with our recommendations. Right now, the focus is on getting ready for a new vaccine that is more easily stored and transported than the currently-approved vaccines. The Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate, already approved in the UK, is currently being reviewed by Health Canada regulators.

Dr. Reimer confirmed today the province hopes to be ready to use a vaccine like this in physicians’ offices and pharmacies immediately upon its federal approval and arrival in Manitoba. Doctors Manitoba will continue to work with provincial officials on these plans and provide updates to members, including how to participate, once more is known.

Provincial officials also confirmed they are working on finalizing a priority list for vaccine eligibility, which is also responsive to our recommendations. This process is, apparently, delayed slightly due to the Pfizer shipment disruption.

With both specialists and family physicians playing a role in the immunization rollout, Doctors Manitoba will continue to work with provincial officials to ensure physicians have the information they need, and a clear role, in the days and weeks ahead.

Vaccine Update

As we reported to you on Friday, Pfizer is temporarily reducing vaccine production so they can boost their overall output. This will result in reduced supply for the next four weeks or so across Canada.

The province confirmed that even with this disruption, no existing appointments are cancelled for first or second doses. This is because the province had held back enough supply.

New appointments were paused to allow the provincial task force to review capacity and learn more about how shipments to Manitoba would be impacted.

Based on this, Dr. Joss Reimer confirmed today they expect to have enough shipments for an additional 4,000 appointments. The vaccine appointment phone line will reopen tomorrow morning to resume booking for Winnipeg and Brandon locations.

Eligibility has been expanded to remove the age limit for those working in PCHs. This means physicians of any age providing in-person care in long-term care facilities are now eligible. All other criteria remain the same and can be accessed on the provincial vaccine site.

The PCH immunization plan is not impacted by the Pfizer disruption, and is actually ahead of schedule. Dr. Reimer reported today they expect to complete first doses at all PCHs by the end of January, one week earlier than planned. So far, immunizations have been completed at 10 PCHs with “very good” uptake by residents. This week, 51 more PCHs will be complete.

The Pfizer disruption will not impact the allocation of Moderna vaccines for First Nations.

The Brandon immunization super site opened today and Joanna Robb, a cytotechnologist working with COVID specimens in the Westman Lab, was the first to get the vaccine. Officials said the site will administer over 550 shots on its first day.

This follows some confusion on the weekend as text message confirmations were sent with the wrong location. This was corrected and the province says they are addressing the issue.

Last Call for 2019 CME Applications

Recognizing the disruption of the pandemic on physicians, we have extended the deadline for applications for the 2019 Rebate on Continuing Medical Education (CME) expenses.

The final deadline for 2019 CME rebate applications is now February 15, 2021. Originally, applications were due by December 31. You can submit your CME 2019 rebate application online. Contact Barry at bhallman@doctorsmanitoba.ca for assistance.

While 2019 was not disrupted by the pandemic, applications opened during the pandemic so we made changes to improve the process. This includes offering a new online application, expediting rebate payments, and now extending the deadline.

Applications for 2020 Expenses Coming Soon
You will soon be able to apply for your rebate on 2020 CME expenses. Our Board has approved changes that will allow more flexibility, recognizing the continued disruption on continuing medical education due to the pandemic.

For your 2020 rebate, you will have the ability to roll over any unused portion of the $3,800 rebate maximum to the following year. This means you’ll have a combined maximum rebate of $7,600 for to cover expenses incurred in 2020 and 2021.

Blue Monday

Today is “Blue Monday,” described by some marketers as the most depressing day of the year based on their non-scientific analysis of weather, post-holiday lows and reduced daylight. While 2020 and 2021 are not typical years, we’ll take any opportunity to talk about physician health and wellness during the pandemic.

By now, all doctors have felt some impact from the pandemic. You’ve faced prolonged uncertainty, change, risk of infection, and for some a loss in income.

While the vaccine offers us hope for a return-to-normal, it won’t come tomorrow.

Whether it’s for you, or to be ready to help a colleague in need, take a moment over the next few days to write down three actions that can help to build resilience and cope over the weeks and months ahead. Then add them to your schedule.

To help, check out these resources:

Don’t forget, as a doctor you have access to health and wellness resources designed specifically for physicians, including the Physician and Family 24/7 Support Line, MDCare and Physicians At Risk.
Learn more about these services and how to access them.