image.jpg

Manitoba's Vaccine Implementation Task Force, along with the First Nations Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team (PRCT), announced its vaccination plan for First Nations in Manitoba Monday afternoon.

First Nations have received 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine and those vials have been sent to all 63 First Nations in Manitoba.

The shots will be used on health-care workers in remote or isolated communities, residents and staff of personal care homes or Elder Care facilities, people aged 60 or older in remote and isolated communities, and people aged 70 or older in non-remote areas.

Health officials also said another shipment of Moderna, which will total another 5,300 doses, will arrive in mid-to late-February and those will be used as the second doses.

It was also noted that First Nations workers who already meet eligibility criteria for the province's vaccine rollout can still book appointments at super sites.

Officials also said on top of the two shipments from Moderna, another 1,200 doses are available and will be given to health-care workers in non-remote areas to make sure they can still access appointments while the Pfizer vaccine shortages continue.

It will also be available for workers at First Nations alternative isolation accommodation sites that are supported by First Nations organizations and Traditional Healers and Knowledge Keepers.

These extra doses will be available at a pop-up site in Winnipeg and hubs in Thompson, The Pas and Flin Flon.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, vice dean, Indigenous health and public health lead for Manitoba First Nation PRCT, said the site in Winnipeg will open on Feb. 8.

Vaccines will also be available this week at the KeKiNan Centre, which is an assisted-living facility for Indigenous seniors in Winnipeg.

Anderson also noted that the PRCT and the vaccine taskforce are working on ensuring younger First Nations Manitobans receive a vaccine sooner due to COVID-19 having a more severe impact on First Nations people.

"The median age of severe outcomes from COVID for First Nations people is also much younger than it is for other Manitobans. The median age is 51 for hospitalizations and the median age of death is 66 for First Nations people in Manitoba, which is a full 17 years lower than the rest of the province," said Anderson.

She added First Nations people make up 50 per cent of hospitalizations and 52 per cent of intensive care patients.

To make sure younger First Nations people receive the vaccine sooner, Anderson said when Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout commences in the province, First Nations people over the age of 60 will be eligible for a shot. This will be during the same timeframe when everyone else over the age of 80 will be eligible.

Dr. Joss Reimer, the head of the vaccine taskforce, said it would be ideal to have these two groups be vaccinated on the same timeline, but she said it depends on supply.

"What we have said right now is we are going to start with Manitobans over 95 and First Nations Manitobans over 75 and then move in one-year increments as supply comes in," said Reimer.

She added if supply is even too low for that, they will go with higher age limits.

Anderson also addressed the current problems that First Nations face with regards to COVID-19, specifically overcrowding.

She said overcrowding in First Nations households, both on and off reserve, leads to a much higher chance of COVID-19 spreading.

"We are talking about households with a single bathroom, two or three bedrooms, where double digit numbers of people are living, 10, 12 and over some cases over 20 people living,” Anderson said. “So I think if we want to imagine the province's usual advice, which is, best-case scenario, have a private bedroom and have a private bathroom to isolate in, when you're in the double digits in a single bathroom household, that is going to be almost impossible and that is what drives a lot of the spread that we see in First Nations communities.”

NDP Critic for Indigenous Relations Ian Bushie said he is excited to see the First Nations plan but would also like to see something similar for Metis Manitobans.

"I urge (Premier Brian Pallister) to immediately reach out to Metis leadership and support a plan that ensure Metis Manitobans have a safe and effective vaccine plan as well. The vaccine is a crucial step to keeping our communities safe and returning to the activities we love again. I encourage all Indigenous people to get the shot when they are able to," he said in an email to CTV News.

A calculator on the province’s website showing the place in line for all Manitobans waiting for vaccinations can be found here.