The province expects a shipment of 7,300 doses of Moderna vaccine to arrive this week, of which 5,300 will be immediately available to First Nations. “I think this gives us all hope that we’re going to get over it soon, rather than later,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs (SCO) organization.
Over the past two weeks, a team of First Nations health experts have worked with the provincial vaccine implementation working group to identify priority communities and populations to receive the first doses.
The team includes representatives from COS, as well as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakinak (MKO) and Indigenous health researchers from the University of Manitoba.
“We are pleased with the partnership and the spirit of collaboration that has developed and will continue as the difficult decisions regarding the deployment of this vaccine are made,” said Dr Barry Lavallee, Health Officer for MKO and CEO of Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, press release.
Melanie MacKinnon, Ongomiizwin chief at U of M and member of the First Nations advisory team, told CBC News that more details on vaccine distribution – including communities that would benefit from priority access – would be announced this weekend.
Daniels said the focus will be on isolated communities, such as Little Grand Rapids, Poplar River and Pauingassi in the south, as well as people living in long-term care homes, the elderly and those whose immune system is weakened.
Health workers have priority
Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said frontline health workers will be given first priority.
“This will mainly go to everyone in the field, to frontline workers, to people who will administer the vaccine,” he said.
Although the province kicked off its vaccination program on Dec. 16 with the arrival of the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, storage requirements for it meant that remote and northern communities had to wait for the Moderna vaccine, which can be transported more easily. .
The provincial government says it has pledged to provide planes to transport the vaccine to priority locations.
First Nations hit hard
In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Lavallee said Manitoba could ease the strain on the province’s health care system by prioritizing Indigenous peoples, who account for a disproportionate number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and ‘admissions to intensive care units.
First Nations currently represent a third of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and more than 40% of patients in intensive care units. Of Manitoba’s 63 First Nations, 54 have had cases of COVID-19.
Lavallee also said it was the work of First Nations health experts, as well as pressure from First Nations leaders that convinced the provincial government to invite Indigenous experts to the table.
The province says it prioritizes health workers and senior care facilities in First Nations communities, offers joint training to First Nations immunization teams, access to its best practices and guidance documents and collaborates on a campaign to promote immunization.
A dedicated vaccination site will also open in Thompson to serve northern and remote communities, including First Nations. This will allow the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be shipped north, along with the Moderna vaccine.
By the end of March, Manitoba is expected to receive a per capita allocation of 228,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, as well as an additional 9,600 doses of Moderna vaccine for First Nations.