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Have a safe Christmas by getting vaccinated, says Indigenous health expert

Children nine and under are the age group with the most active cases in First Nations right now.
dr. marcia anderson winnipeg free press local journalism initiative
Dr. Marcia Anderson of the First Nations Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team

A Manitoba doctor and expert on Indigenous health says the opportunity for more First Nations children in Manitoba to get their COVID-19 vaccinations could not come soon enough, as cases among children in many communities continue to rise and the holiday season quickly approaches.

In an online seminar this week, Dr. Marcia Anderson, the public health lead for the First Nations pandemic response co-ordination team, spoke about the opportunity Manitoba kids ages 5-11 now have to get vaccinated, and how she hopes as many First Nations children get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Right now the age group that has the most active cases among First Nations is the 0-9 age group, and the group with the second most cases is that 10-19 age group, so really these vaccines can’t come soon enough,” Anderson said.

“It’s another layer of protection that is available for the five to 11-year-olds, and when we think about allowing for school activities and gatherings, this is some of the best news we have had since the pandemic started.”

Anderson said that they have also found that as the pandemic has gone on, the risks to First Nations people and children continues to increase.

“We have seen more hospitalizations of First Nations children in this fourth wave than in the previous three waves,” Anderson said. “And even though kids are less likely to get severe outcomes from COVID-19 they still do happen and we have seen in First Nations communities that risk get higher in each wave.”

Anderson now says that with Christmas and other holidays approaching she also hopes First Nations children get vaccinated as a way to slow the spread of the virus once people start spending more time together, and getting together for the holidays.

“We are just about a month out from all those winter gatherings and celebrations,” Anderson said. “We know it’s a time when we like to be together and to have lots of contact but this year the opportunity that we have is to have as many of our kids vaccinated by then as possible.”

“In addition by Christmas time we will have about 33,000 First Nations people who are eligible for boosters, so if everyone who is eligible for a booster, as well as the kids who are eligible by then for the vaccine get their shot, gatherings over Christmas and New Year’s will be much safer for all of us.”

And according to Anderson, getting kids vaccinated is also important because in many First Nations communities there is a greater risk of COVID spreading because of the conditions in many homes, and in the schools.

“Because of factors like overcrowded housing and overcrowded schools with poor ventilation, kids are more at risk,” Anderson said. “The vaccine is important for breaking up those chains of transmission in communities that create those large outbreaks and that can lead to multiple people or even everyone in the home getting COVID.”

Over the course of the pandemic, several schools in First Nations communities in Manitoba have been forced to close because of COVID outbreaks and Anderson said that has had negative impacts on children’s education and learning outcomes.

“In many communities, if there are cases of COVID-19, then there have been decisions to close the schools, so kids are experiencing serious learning challenges,” she said.

“So as soon as we get everyone vaccinated we will also hopefully see that benefit of having more kids in schools for most or all of the time for the rest of the year, so they can start catching up on those learning outcomes, and participating in other activities as well.

“We really do recommend all First Nations kids age 5-11 get both doses of the vaccine.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.

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