Premier Brian Pallister defended what some critics have described as Manitoba’s slow push to get COVID-19 shots administered Tuesday, as First Nations reported a good start to their inoculation efforts.
At last report Monday, slightly more than 10,000 vaccine doses had been administered across Manitoba, but according to the federal government nearly 30,000 doses have been delivered to the province since December.
At a Tuesday morning press conference, Pallister said it may look as though Manitoba isn’t getting doses out as quickly as other provinces, but that’s because health officials here have decided keep some of the vaccine frozen to make sure there’s enough for a second round of vaccinations.
“We’re still holding back some vaccines, which, as I emphasize, other provinces have stopped doing,” he told reporters.
“We can’t miss more than about a week’s shipments, but we could miss a week shipments and still ensure that our second round of vaccines is available to folks.
“We want to make sure that we get those in, because that’s the most effective way to do it.”
Pallister also pointed to the logistical issues of getting vaccine delivered to remote and northern communities.
“We need to have coordination at that end to make sure that’s done well and properly and respectfully,” he said.
“So that is that is a reason that some of the vaccines are taking a little longer to get out there, because it’s not the same to deliver to Parliament Hill as it is to St. Theresa Point.”
Pallister said Tuesday the province expects to have received enough vaccine to have one per cent of the population vaccinated by the end of January and two per cent vaccinated by the end of February.
“Less than 10 per cent of folks will be vaccinated in the first quarter under the current federal delivery schedule,” he said.
First Nation vaccinations
Meanwhile, First Nations leaders in Northern Manitoba say the vaccine rollout is off to a good start, but there’s plenty of work still to do.
First Nations communities are receiving 5,300 initial doses of the Moderna vaccine, followed by another 5,300 expected early next month.
Seven First Nations communities in northern Manitoba have so far received the vaccine, according to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), and hundreds of individuals have received their first shot.
Most of the first doses have been prioritized for elders over 70, and some care home staff.
Chief Leroy Constant of York Factory First Nation said Tuesday there is skepticism about the safety of the vaccine, which has led to some refusals.
“You gotta think of the… we have a lot of old school people in our communities that don’t believe in the western way, they believe in the traditional medicines, and we have to respect that,” he told Global News, adding leadership is distributing up-to-date information on vaccine safety.
Mervin Garrick is an elder and Councilor in Pimicikamak Cree Nation, and was one of the first to receive the vaccine in his community.
“If I was 65 or 60 I probably wouldn’t have taken it but I wanted to show people to have trust in the vaccine, and I’m pretty sure a lot of them now have different feelings about it,” he said.
Meanwhile, leaders like Constant are hopeful the work going into vaccine distribution will be a catalyst for bigger changes to First Nations healthcare.
He said the pandemic has exacerbated other issues, like access to mental health support.
“We can’t drive to the nearest health facility, you have to wait for a plane depending on weather, and 90 per cent of the time planes can’t land when there’s a serious situation going on,” he said.
“We’re doing our best to bring in resources and do it safely; bring in crisis response teams for the people attempting suicides, bring in resources to deal with people that are depressed and don’t want to do anything. It’s to that point.”
Manitoba’s First Nation COVID-19 pandemic response team reported Monday that 61 per cent of the people with active COVID-19 in the province are First Nations.
— With files from Brittany Greenslade and Will Reimer