COVID-19 vaccinations begin in Northern Manitoba First Nations

Vaccination of Northern Manitoba First Nations people against COVID-19 has begun with the first doses of the Moderna vaccinearriving in Norway house Cree Nation and Cross Lake Jan. 7.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias said in an emailed statement last Thursday that his First Nation was receiving 199 doses of the vaccine, with 168 of those intended for elders over the age of 70, 11 for elders in care homes and 20 for staff working in the care home. The doses must be used within 30 days and, if any of those currently eligible to receive it opt not to, those doses will be used for health centre staff or residents aged 69.

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“We were initially expecting to get the vaccines for Feb. 1 and we learned yesterday that we would be receiving the vaccines now for our elders,” said Monias. “I am ecstatic and very happy as this vaccine means we can better protect our knowledge keepers and our traditional teachers!”

The PCN pandemic team and the nursing station will be making arrangements with eligible recipients to obtain their consent and begin administering doses over the next few days, said Monias, who expects local nurses will have to assist with providing vaccinations.

The Cross Lake/PCN health district had 46confirmed active cases of COVID-19 as of Jan. 11 and has had more than 150 cases of the virus over the past few months.

Husband and wife Leslie and Veronica Apetagon were the first members of Norway House Cree Nation (NHCN) to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The First Nation received 240 doses of the Moderna vaccine Jan. 7, designated for personal care home residents and staff and elders aged 70 and older.

“As a new chief of a First Nation, this experience is like being part of a crew on a boat in the vast ocean.,æ said NHCN Chief Larson anderson in a Jan. 11 press rleease. “Sadly, the boat has many leaks and damages and is in constant need of repairs. The pandemic is like a massive storm that is battering the boat and making an already dangerous situation more critical. NHCN is extremely fortunate to have a very resilient and determined crew to keep our nation afloat. As a result, we kept the COVID-19 virus out of our community for eight months. To date, we have had 48 positives in Norway House and in Winnipeg. Currently, we have five active cases in Winnipeg and no active ones in Norway House. Now that we have the vaccine coming into our community, we see a light at the end of the tunnel. We will continue to practise all the fundamentals that have worked for us.

Manitoba’s provincial government has allocated 5,300 of the 7,300 doses of Moderna vaccine it has received so far for First Nations people, with the other 2,000 to be used to help vaccinate personal care home residents over four weeks beginning Jan. 11. The Moderna vaccine does not have to be stored at temperatures as low as the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine so it is more portable. Another 5,300 doses of Moderna that the province expects to receive before the end of February are also set aside for First Nations. COVID-19 vaccines must be delivered in two doses a few weeks apart to provide maximum protection, which clinical trials have shown to be 95 per cent or higher.

“This is a historic day in our fight against COVID-19, built on a strong and respectful partnership with First Nations leadership and the guidance of our public health experts,” said Premier Brian Pallister in an emailed statement Jan 7.

There were more than 2,000 active cases of COVID-19 among First Nations people in Manitoba as of Jan.11, according to the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team, including 50 people in hospital, eight of whom were in intensive care. More than 100 First Nations people have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, the latest being a man in his 60s from the Northern Regional Health Authority and a woman in her 70s from the Winnipeg health region, whose deaths were both announced by the provincial government on Monday.

“As we know from the data we have gathered on the impact of COVID-19 on First Nations people, our citizens continue to be disproportionately impacted by this virus,” said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee in a Jan. 6 press release. “I thank the leaders and First Nations health experts who are now working together in unity on a plan to get the vaccines into the arms of First Nations people in Northern Manitoba. My office will continue to work to ensure that MKO citizens can acquire one of the vaccines as soon as possible and we will provide more detailed updates as they become available. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to remain vigilant and continue practising public health measures to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

To date, Manitoba has received about 29,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and slightly more than 10,000 people have received their first-dose immunization, including 28 residents from the NRHA, with 302 Manitobans having received their second dose last week

Current eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations includes anyone who works in an intensive care unit, people who work in long-term or acute care facilities who were born before Dec. 31, 1975, workers in COVID-19 immunization clinics or testing sites, lab workers who handle COVID-19 specimens, those who work in designated COVID-19 hospital wards and health care workers in provincial and federal correctional facilities. Some ome care workers were added to the eligibility list on monday.

The provincial government is opening a vaccination super site in Brandon Jan. 18 and intends to open another in Thompson adjacent to the airport by Feb. 1. The airport location is intended to allow distribution of the Pfizer vaccine by air and ground transportation to remote communities.

A vaccination plan released by the provincial government Jan. 6 says the goal is to administer 2,600 doses at the Thompson vaccination site in the first week of February and more than 11,000 in total by the end of the first week of March. The same plan projects that 70 per cent of Manitobans will be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of this year, though the province’s acting deputy chief public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said those numbers could rise if more vaccine supplies become available earlier than expected.

Manitoba Health and Senior Care medical officer of health Dr. Joss Reimer, a member of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force, said that as of Jan. 6, there had only been four adverse reactions to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Manitoba. Two of those required no further medical treatment while two required emergency room visits. One of those who went to the ER recovered and Reimer said she was still awaiting information on the other one.

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