The Manitoba government is launching a million dollar grant program in the hopes of helping vaccine hesitant communities persuade residents to get their shots.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the money will be broken down into grants of up to $20,000 that can be applied for by groups with plans to reach their community.
“Until very recently, our number one limiting factor in protecting Manitobans was vaccine supply, but now, as we approach nearly 70 per cent of Manitobans vaccinated, our challenge is to reach the other 30 per cent,” Pallister said at a Thursday press conference.
The province said community, sport, religious, cultural, education and arts organizations are examples of groups that can apply.
The money could be used for things like outreach staffing, contacting and supporting clients to get vaccinated, communications materials and community level incentives like meals, the province said.
That may mean everything from raffles for hockey equipment in vaccine-hesitant communities to funding for pop-up clinics targeting hard-to-reach residents.
While groups from across the province can apply, a government official told media at a Thursday technical briefing priority will be given to areas where vaccine uptake is low.
Applications can be made online starting Thursday and programming will be expected to run from June to September.
As of Wednesday Manitoba has administered 874,564 first and second doses of vaccine, according to a provincial website tracking doses.
Health officials say that means, overall, slightly more than 62 per cent of Manitobans 12 and over have so far received at least one shot of vaccine.
But not all areas of Manitoba have been as enthusiastic about getting the shot.
Data from the province shows there are areas of low vaccine uptake, including the core areas of Winnipeg and some rural areas south of the capital.
Only 12.9 per cent of the eligible population of the RM of Stanley have been vaccinated as of Wednesday, for example.
To combat the hesitancy, the province has also expanded an advertising campaign encouraging Manitobans to get vaccinated.
The latest campaign, which has included spots on the boards behind the nets at Winnipeg Jets games, features prominent Manitobans with a messaging linking vaccination to a return to activities like sporting and cultural events, and eating at restaurants.
The campaign will be guided by a committee made up of what the province says are leaders and influencers from business, community and the non-profit sector.
Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr and Economic Development Winnipeg CEO Dayna Spiring will co-chair the committee, Pallister said.
Pallister had previously said the province would announce incentives for vaccination last week, but officials later said an announcement would come this week.
Pallister left the door open to the government offering more vaccine incentives — directly to people — in the future.
In public consultations last month, the government raised the idea of free meals, museum admissions and financial payments of up to $100.
“This isn’t the final announcement … so I won’t rule out that there’ll be some individual incentivization,” Pallister said.
“There’s lots of people that aren’t involved directly in a community group, a sports group, a church group, a cultural group … so we’re going to look to reach them in other ways.”
Pallister also said he expects to announce a reopening plan for the province next week, but provided no further details.
All Manitobans 12 and over are currently eligible to book their first-dose appointments.
Earlier this week health officials announced those who received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for their first dose can get either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for their second shot. Anyone who got their first shot on or before April 20 can make an appointment for their second jab.
Health officials have said those making appointments need to know which vaccine they first received, and the date the dose was given.
Vaccination appointments can be made by calling 1-844-626-8222 (1-844-MAN-VACC) or visiting the province’s website.
–With files from The Canadian Press
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