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COVID-deniers, vaccine-hesitant from Winkler a large share of ICU admissions: Doctor

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As parts of southern Manitoba continue to grapple with low COVID-19 vaccination rates, doctors working in the area are struggling to convince some patients and residents about how serious the virus is. Global's Brittany Greenslade has the story – Jun 1, 2021

As parts of southern Manitoba continue to grapple with low COVID-19 vaccination rates, doctors working in the area are struggling to convince some patients and residents about how serious the virus is.

“What we saw this weekend was a rather precipitous fall for many patients,” anesthesiologist Dr. Ganesan Abbu told Global News after a long shift Monday afternoon.

Over the weekend, Shared Health said a record 30 COVID-19 patients were admitted to Manitoba intensive care units over two days.

“I would say that we’ve accounted for about 40 per cent of the transfers into ICU in Winnipeg and Brandon in the last 48 hours,” he said.

Doctors are seeing younger patients everyday who are quickly deteriorating, said Abbu.

“These are young patients who in a day or two went from needing three or four litres of oxygen to requiring intubation and ventilation,” he said.

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“So a very quick progression.”

But on top of the sheer volume of patients, Abbu said none who came into Boundary Trails Health Centre with COVID over the past two days had received their vaccine.

“Every one of these patients that we have had in hospital or in the intensive care unit have been unvaccinated, some by choice and others because they have been waiting for an appointment and just missed out… those are the minority though,” he said.

Read more: No Hoax: Fighting COVID-19 has meant tackling conspiracy theories, even within families

According to the province, just under 25 per cent of Winkler’s adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the surrounding Rural Municipality of Stanley, has only immunized 11 per cent adults.

Many patients Abbu sees believes the virus is fake and part of a conspiracy.

“We are seeing a segment of the population that hasn’t been vaccinated and this is the same segment that perhaps believes that this is a hoax,” Abbu said.

“It is unfortunate because even in the face of such dire consequences here in the hospital, there are a few people, or more than just a few people, who still believe that this is a conspiracy between medicine and big business.”

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There are a number of reasons why people in some religious communities remain hesitant, including misinformation and a historical distrust of government.

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About a century ago, Russian Mennonites fled their country to escape government persecution during the Russian Revolution.

“People, from a historical perspective, also the most recent immigrants, come here actually trying to escape government control,” Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said.

“And so they’re sensing, because of the message that we have been getting, including fines and crackdowns and police enforcement, it has all built this negative attitudes towards anything that is coming from the government.”

The largely faith-based community has some residents who have been vocally and openly opposed to vaccines and COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’ve had deliberate people going into stores just simply not putting their masks on,” Harder said

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“All I want to say to them is you’re destroying the economy of the local business because we have people who are afraid to go do any shopping because people abuse the system or abuse their rights.”

Harder, whose been Winkler’s mayor for 15 years, has been working with local physician Dr. Don Klassen and speaking to people in the area to try to alleviate fears and concerns.

The duo filmed a video together, which is being shared across multiple websites and social media pages, encouraging people in the area to trust local health professionals and get vaccinated.

Klassen, has been a doctor in Winkler for four decades, and is currently providing medical support at the C.W. Wiebe Medical Centre.

“In a lot of cases, not only has he delivered their babies, he’s delivered them… like he’s been around long enough to deliver some of these hard liners,” Harder said.

“You’ve got to look at the intent of the local community, the intent of the doctors to try to help people. They’re not they’re not all hook, line and sinker on a big, massive global plan to reset the global world.”

Harder said he is concerned his community could see long term impacts as families, friends and loved ones take sides.

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“The longer it takes, the animosity continues to build bigger and bigger, and not only does it destroy communities, it destroys families,” he said.

Read more: What is the ‘Swiss cheese model’ and how can it apply to coronavirus?

“I’ve seen it in this area, people who are just diametrically opposed to the vaccine, the ones that are just absolutely embracing it and and there’s no middle ground.”

Both Abbu and Harder said they feel it is possible to get more people in the area on board with getting the vaccine and said it comes down helping spread truth and data instead of misinformation people read on social media.

“You know, at the core, these are good people, misdirected perhaps, but they are really good people and I think we need to work hard to try and change these perceptions,” Abbu said.

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