Moderna doses earmarked for Manitoba First Nations

By: Rosanna Hempel
Posted: 12/31/2020 7:03 PM | Last Modified: 12/31/2020 8:13 PM | Updates

Manitoba First Nations can expect to receive thousands of doses of the Moderna vaccine as soon as this week, the provincial government announced Thursday.

The provincial government said Thursday that 5,300 of 7,300 Moderna vaccine doses would be allocated to northern and remote First Nations. The news release didn’t say whether vaccines had been set aside for the Métis Nation.

The province anticipates the Moderna shipment to arrive this week, with doses for First Nations to be shipped out immediately.

“We were all waiting… to see this, this moment where we can see some hope in terms of trying to change the narrative as it relates to COVID-19,” said Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.

“We’re happy that our communities are going to be able to be quite a bit more protected now,” he said Thursday.

The province’s vaccine implementation task force and several First Nations health experts — including four appointed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the SCO — have worked together in the last two weeks to identify priority communities and groups.

“We are pleased at the partnership and spirit of collaboration that has developed and will continue as the delicate decisions around the deployment of this vaccine are made,” said Dr. Barry Lavallee, MKO’s appointed health lead, in the news release. “It is important that Indigenous voices are heard. As Indigenous health experts, we are at this table in support of First Nations people.”

Manitoba said health-care workers and seniors in care facilities would be among the first recipients.

As part of northern Manitoba’s vaccination strategy, an immunization site is being set up in Thompson to provide the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

To date, however, the province has excluded the Manitoba Metis Federation from its vaccine planning.

“Pallister and the province and those who are involved with health care, I think, really need to include the voices of the Métis Nation,” said Daniels.

Métis federation president David Chartrand said while he’s happy First Nations residents will start getting immunized, the province has made Métis people second-class citizens.

“I have very limited confidence in this style of government,” Chartrand said Thursday.

On Wednesday afternoon, a provincial official invited the federation to participate in a working group on vaccine messaging, aimed at shoring up trust in immunizations, instead of deciding who gets the shots.

The committee will “address issues like vaccine hesitancy and develop and disseminate culturally-relevant and effective messaging via trusted vehicles,” reads a Dec. 30 email, which Chartrand said is the first invitation the MMF has received regarding anything related to vaccines.

“Being invited at the 11th hour, after the fact, is troublesome for me (when) they have already made a decision on distributing vaccines,” he said.

“I’m worried about being used by them,” said Chartrand, who fears participating in the working group will allow the province to claim it has consulted with the Métis on vaccine distribution, despite it being a minor part of the plan.

Chartrand said his own nephew tested positive for COVID-19 but wasn’t asked by officials if he was Métis or even Indigenous, despite the provincial protocol to request such data.

“They’re not collecting the data, (but) we know our people are dying,” Chartrand said.

When asked why the Métis Nation has been excluded from the vaccine task force and rollout, a Manitoba government spokesperson said Thursday, “We are in the early days of the vaccine rollout. As the supply of vaccine continues to arrive, the eligibility criteria is constantly being expanded. This will be done carefully, starting with those most at-risk and gradually expanding to include all Manitobans.”

Despite making up only around 10.5 per cent of Manitoba’s population, a disproportionate number of First Nations people have been infected with the virus and cared for in hospital. About 7.2 per cent of Manitobans identify as Métis.

“The guidelines from public health are to give the initial vaccines to people 80 years of age and over. But our (First Nations) life expectancy is 10 or 11 years younger in Manitoba,” Lavallee told the Free Press this week. “We have people dying younger: our average age is 65, versus 80-plus.”

Manitoba expects to receive 237,600 Pfizer and Moderna doses from the federal government by March 31.

— With files from Dylan Robertson

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