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A COVID-19 vaccine is administered in Winnipeg, on March 1, 2021.

Kevin King/The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government says it should be able to get a first dose of COVID-19 vaccines to all eligible people in the province this spring – months ahead of the original prediction.

Acting on studies that have shown a first dose is more effective than originally believed, the province is now delaying second doses in order to get more initial shots done more quickly.

“We’re very confident in the data that we’ve seen so far regarding the effectiveness in the real world of the first dose,” Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province’s vaccine task force, said Friday.

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Originally, the province’s plan was to have everyone immunized by late summer to late fall, and first doses would only be booked when there was certainty a second dose would be available within a few weeks.

Now, the second dose will be delayed by up to four months, freeing up room for more people to get first shots. As a result, all eligible Manitobans should get that first shot sometime between mid-May and the end of June.

The exact timing will depend on the flow of national vaccine supplies during the second quarter of the year – from April to June.

“We’ve received estimates from the federal government about how many [doses] we expect in Q2, but not when in Q2 those doses might come in,” Dr. Reimer said.

Manitoba recently started vaccinating the general population, starting with the oldest age groups, after focusing initially on people in nursing homes, health-care workers and other specific categories. The province is currently booking appointments for First Nations people aged 67 and up and others aged 87 and up.

Manitoba will also receive its first shipment next week of the recently approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which a national panel has recommended not be used on people 65 and older.

The province will use that vaccine on people aged 50 to 64 who have underlying health conditions, Dr. Reimer said, and doses will be distributed largely through pharmacists and doctors’ offices.

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Dr. Reimer said a list of the underlying conditions will be released next week, but she has previously given examples such as people who have kidney failure and are on dialysis.

Manitoba’s COVID-19 indicators continued to drop Friday from a spike in the fall. Health officials reported 53 additional cases and one death. The percentage of people testing positive, which once topped 13 per cent, was down to 3 per cent provincewide and 2.4 per cent in Winnipeg.

“The horizon isn’t too far down the road here. We’re going to be in a really good spot, I think,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, the province’s deputy chief public health officer.

“Just remain resilient a little longer and I think Manitobans won’t be disappointed.”

Premiers say federal COVID-19 vaccine procurement delays have left them no choice but to stretch out the time between doses. British Columbia announced Monday it would allow up to four months between doses. Several other provinces followed suit after a national panel of vaccine experts recommended such an extension would be appropriate if supplies are limited. The Canadian Press

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