Vaccine rollout in isolated First Nations a complicated process: Grand Chief

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 cases rising in the north' COVID-19 cases rising in the north
Northern Manitoba was the region with the most COVID-19 cases in the province for a second straight day Friday. Malika Karim looks at what's causing the spread – Jan 15, 2021

Isolated northern Manitoba communities continue to be hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week, more than half of the province’s active COVID-19 cases were among Indigenous people — many of whom live in remote communities in Manitoba’s far north.

Read more: Northern Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 immunization underway; chiefs describe some hesitancy

The Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) says rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine in the affected region continues to be a complicated process.

Garrison Settee, whose organization represents 26 First Nations, told 680 CJOB that the north’s geography — with many First Nations located hours from the Thompson, Man., supersite — is a factor.

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“Fifteen communities are isolated and they have to be flown in, and some of them have to drive in at least five hours to get to the site,” said Settee.

“Especially when you’re an elder, it’s not an easy thing to go through.”

Veronica Apetagon receives the Moderna vaccine as doses arrived in Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba on Jan. 7, 2021.
Veronica Apetagon receives the Moderna vaccine as doses arrived in Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba on Jan. 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Settee said the rapidly escalating rates of COVID-19 in some communities is alarming, and the reason the virus is spreading so quickly is due, in part, to a lack of adequate housing and infrastructure in the north.

“When you have so many people living in one household, the chances of spreading COVID are very critical,” he said.

Read more: Coronavirus: More than half Manitoba’s active COVID-19 cases are in First Nations population

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“It’s very volatile when you have communities with housing shortages. That has been the chiefs’ concern from the get-go — that we are in a most vulnerable situation because of lack of infrastructure and lack of adequate health facilities.

“The resources are simply not there to be able to facilitate a proper approach to COVID-19.”

Settee said he’s cautiously optimistic about the success of the vaccine in the region, but that Manitoba needs to be patient as the rollout continues.

Read more: Feds pledge $305M for Indigenous communities to tackle coronavirus crisis

The province received its first vaccines in early January and flagged thousands of doses to be shipped to northern First Nations.

Some Indigenous leaders have said there’s been some hesitancy among residents to take the vaccine.

Chief Leroy Constant of York Factory First Nation told Global News his community has expanded eligibility criteria somewhat after a handful of eligible people refused.

“The fear is; ‘why are they giving it to First Nations people first? Why do we have to be the first ones to try it?’ Simply because we’re most at risk. That’s the determining factor,” said Constant.

“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.”

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Click to play video: 'Rising cases among First Nations people' Rising cases among First Nations people
Rising cases among First Nations people – Dec 11, 2020

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