Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members currently stationed in Thompson were thanked May 8 by the organization that represents 26 Northern Manitoba First nations for their assistance in vaccination efforts.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee toured the Operation Vector headquarters and a Chinook helicopter and met with military personnel before presenting them all with sage smudge packages in recognition of their support of First Nations vaccination efforts.
“I just wanted to come here personally to say thank you,” Settee told the assembled CAF members. “Thank you for reaching out to our people. It took a lot of weight off my mind and my shoulders. Thank you for spending your time and energy sacrificing for our people. We’re proud to have you in our territory. We’ll never forget this.”
Operation Vector has assisted 11 remote and isolated Northern Manitoba First Nations to deliver first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to their members, Indigenous Services Canada said in a May 5 update on the pandemic among Indigenous Peoples and communities.
In the two weeks up to May 5, the military worked alongside community healthcare professionals to deliver vaccines and conduct community outreach in Barren Lands First Nation, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation and Northlands Denesuline First Nation and expected to assist second-dose vaccination clinics in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Pauingassi First Nation this week.
Announced and commenced in late March, Operation Vector has seen as many as 200 military personnel deployed to a staging area at the Thompson Airport with the goal of helping First Nations deliver 100,000 vaccinations in 100 days. Equipment supporting the mission includes a C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, two Chinook and two Twin Otter helicopters and other military vehicles.
Duties performed by Canadian Armed Forces members include co-ordinating the delivery of supplies, administering vaccines to patients and transporting community members to and from clinics where required.
Two teams have been travelling from the headquarters at the Thompson Airport to First Nations, sometimes via Chinook.
Vaccination support teams usually consist of one nursing officer and five medical technicians who administer vaccines along with a pair of general duty soldiers, a platoon commander and the platoon second in command, said Sgt. Ryan Simpson of the 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, who is stationed in Canadian Forces Base Shilo near Brandon and serves as one team’s second in command.
Simpson’s team has administered vaccines in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Garden Hill First Nation, God’s Lake Narrows First Nation, Manto Sipi Cree Nation, Brochet and Lac Brochet.
“It was a good opportunity for us to go out in the middle of the night and see the northern lights where there was not a whole lot of street lights around so we got some good pictures,” Simpson said.
Prior to deploying to First Nations, the team members are given rapid COVID-19 tests, which means Simpson has had his nasal passage swabbed numerous times since arriving in Thomson March 27.
"We don’t want to be a vector bringing the COVID into any of the communities,” said Simpson, who was born on Canada’s east coast but lived in various locations growing up because his father was enlisted in the British army.
Capt. Shannon Snape, also of the 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery in Shilo, the platoon commander of the other vaccination team, which has deployed to Pauingassi First Nation, Little Grand Rapids, Berens River and O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation at South Indian Lake, said the assignment is very different from her usual duties.
“It’s very interesting being able to learn about the diversity, the different cultures within Canada,” she said. “They’re very welcoming to us. They want us there, we’re here to help them and they enjoy our presence. We get to laugh along with them and learn from them and they learn from us. It’s a good time. It’s nothing like we’ve ever done before, having CAF mobilized to help out in a pandemic so it’s been super eye-opening and super rewarding and humbling being able to help fellow Canadians on our home soil.”
The operation also provides pilots the opportunity to complete required flying hours and for them and other CAF members to complete training in loading sling loads underneath the Chinook helicopters, said Simpson.
Snape’s vaccination team is returning to the First Nations they’ve already visited to deliver second doses of vaccine and mass vaccination clinics are scheduled up to May 27 at this point.
Prior to Operation Vector, the armed forces assisted more than 50 northern and Indigenous communities to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, providing assistance at Rod McGillivary Memorial Care Home in The Pas, as well to Shamattawa First Nation, Pauingassi First Nation, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Red Sucker Lake, Garden Hill First Nation, Cross Lake and Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Manitoba. This assistance has included contributions from the Canadian Rangers, who serve in more than 200 communities across Canada.
As of May 4, 391,983 vaccine doses have been administered in 687 First Nations, Inuit and territorial communities, Indigenous Services Canada says, estimating that, based on Statistics Canada’s 2020 population projections, 63 per cent of adults in First Nations communities and 73 per cent of adults in the territories have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Indigenous Services Canada said that as of May 4 it was aware of 27,564 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in First Nations since the pandemic began, 732 of which remained active. Recoveries number 26,513 and there have been 319 deaths related to the virus among First Nations people.