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The Manitoba government expanded eligibility for second COVID-19 booster shots Friday as pandemic hospitalization numbers continued to slowly drop.

Indigenous people ages 30 and up and others 50 and older can now get a second booster. The minimum ages had been 50 and 70 respectively.

All immunocompromised people 18 and up are also now eligible.

The province also reduced the minimum wait time for both the first and second booster shots – to four months from six months after the last dose.

“Vaccination is the best way to protect ourselves we can see how much protection that provides for people against those severe outcomes,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer.

Roussin pointed to provincial government data that shows the rate of COVID-19 related intensive care admissions in March for unvaccinated people was four times higher than among people with at least one booster shot. The rate of deaths was also close to four times higher.

Manitoba hospitals continue to see high numbers of people with COVID-19, but the numbers have been dropping in recent weeks.

“We see that the numbers certainly aren’t on a steep decline,” Roussin said.

“Because there’s such widespread transmission of this virus, we do see still a lot of incidental admissions.”

About 60 per cent of people admitted to intensive care units recently with COVID-19 were there for other reasons, Roussin said.

The province also expanded eligibility Friday for Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment for COVID-19. The pills are available to those who have tested positive and who are at higher risk due to factors such as age, obesity or pregnancy.

The Manitoba Liberals welcomed the expanded vaccine eligibility but said the Progressive Conservative government has not done enough to promote boosters.

“They really need to be ramping up a campaign to encourage people to get their shot,” Liberal leader Dougald Lamont said. He called on the government to spend more on its COVID-19 vaccine advertising instead of its ad campaign promoting the provincial budget.

In Manitoba, 51 per cent of people 12 and older had at least one booster shot by May 8, according to data tracked by the federal government. That is four points lower than the national average.

Roussin also said Manitoba has not yet seen any cases of monkeypox. The first two cases of the virus in Canada were confirmed in Quebec on Thursday.

“We’re obviously following that situation quite closely and will be communicating with health-care providers shortly to ensure they’re aware of developments there just to raise awareness and the type of things that they can look for.”

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