The first shipments of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are on their way to First Nations in Manitoba.

According to a joint statement from The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and the Province of Manitoba, in collaboration with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin (KIM) and Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) the first shipments of the shot went out Thursday morning.

MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said the announcement brings much needed hope to Manitoba's First Nation communities that have been under "insurmountable stress" since the pandemic started.

"The majority of the First Nation communities don't have the infrastructure, and also the health systems are not adequate, to be able to address a pandemic," he said. "This is not the end yet, we still need to remain vigilant, but certainly it brings a lot of optimism and hope to our First Nation communities."

Last week, Manitoba received 7,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Of these does, 5,300 are allocated for First Nations Priorities.

Settee said he hopes to have a fair number of First Nations people vaccinated by the end of March.

The statement also said another 5,300 doses of the vaccine have been committed for the week of February 23, and planning has started to immediately deliver vaccines to all 63 First Nations in the province.

The initial priority groups have been identified as:

  • Essential health-care workers providing services in remote and isolated communities who cannot access the provincial vaccination super sites;
  • Residents and staff of personal care homes and elder care facilities;
  • People over the age of 60 living in remote and isolated communities; and
  • People over the age of 70 living in non-remote communities

The AMC said the first shipments of the vaccine which were sent out on Thursday will be going to care homes and Elder homes in the following Nations:

  • Cross Lake
  • Norway House
  • Fisher River Cree Nation
  • Peguis First Nation

AMC said plans are being made to send vaccines to personal care homes in the following Nations as well:

  • Nisichawayawsihk
  • Opaskwayak
  • Sagkeeng
  • Sioux Valley
  • Bunibonibee 

In a statement, Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake) Chief David Monias said a total of 199 vaccines were set to arrive in Cross Lake on Thursday. He said once the vaccine arrives, health-care workers have less than 30 days to administer the doses. The vaccine doses are designated for 168 Elders aged 70 or older, 11 Elders in care homes, and 20 staff working in Elder's homes.

Monias said they will respect the decision of anyone who refuses the vaccine.

"Once we have approached all Elders over the age of 70, we have two options for proceeding—we can use the extra doses for health centre staff or give it to Elders who are aged 69," he said, adding they were not expecting vaccines until the beginning of February.

"I am ecstatic and very happy as this vaccine means we can better protect our knowledge keepers and our traditional teachers."

Shamattawa First Nation Chief Eric Redhead told CTV News the news of the vaccine is a "light at the end of the tunnel."

He said he doesn't know when the First Nation will receive the vaccine, or how much it will be designated.

"Ideally, we'd like to have enough vaccines to inoculate anyone who would like the vaccine. That's the goal," Redhead said, adding he knows there will not be enough vaccine to do that right away.

"I am hoping that they prioritize isolated and overcrowded communities because that would have the most impact, we would see the most impact of those vaccines there."

Redhead said as of Thursday, Shamattawa has 23 active cases of COVID-19 in the community of about 1,000 people.

This work was done by the Pandemic Response Coordination Team (PRCT) in collaboration with the province, said AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas in the written statement.

“This is just the start of the vaccine rollout and we appreciate the patience of everyone in allowing our First Nations health experts to provide us the necessary guidance in this endeavour,” Dumas said. “I further want to commend our Chiefs for their diligence and commitment to providing information and assistance day in and out to ensure that our PRCT is supported.”

Premier Brian Pallister was also quoted in the statement. He said this is building the plan to protect health-care workers and vulnerable people no matter where they live in Manitoba.

“We are proud to have built a solid and respectful partnership with First Nations leaders and their medical experts so that this critical work can move forward safely and effectively. The vaccines being delivered starting tomorrow (Thursday) are another historic event in our province’s response to the pandemic,” Pallister said.

The most recent COVID-19 First Nations Report from the PRCT said 49 per cent of active cases in the overall Manitoba population are in First Nations people.