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Manitoba premier calls vaccine hesitancy a multi-faceted challenge

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Manitoba’s premier says he admits low vaccination rights in the southern part of the province are a concern, but he’s not sold on regional restrictions as a way to increase those numbers.

Kelvin Goertzen, the longtime MLA for Steinbach, called it a multi-faceted challenge.

“The southern (region) is a big area — it crosses almost half the province,” Goertzen said.

“A city like Steinbach, where I live, is about 65 per cent vaccinated rate, so it’s not where we want it to be, but not as low as some might think it is.

“Some of the (resistance to vaccines) is of course misinformation, and information spreads in different ways these days — people tend to rely on their family and friends for advice, so when misinformation catches hold in an area, it can catch hold pretty strongly.”

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Goertzen said where the province has seen success in vaccine-hesitant areas is through individual discussions, community forums, and trusted leaders visiting communities in-person and talking directly to those residents who are hesitant but who don’t hold a hardline anti-vaccine stance.

“I don’t suspect we’re going to get 100 per cent of the people vaccinated, but that work has to continue,” he said.

“I do know that what isn’t going to work is yelling at people and demeaning people. We can’t have that kind of division.”

“The right decision is to get vaccinated — it was my decision, it was my wife’s decision, it was my son’s decision — but that doesn’t mean that the people who aren’t getting vaccinated, that we should be yelling at them or demeaning them or shaming them. We should be talking to them, we should be trying to work through the resistance and trying to provide the best information we can.”

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While there have been some calls for region-specific restrictions to communities with especially low vaccination rates, Goertzen said he thinks the provincewide restrictions are already having that kind of impact, though he will continue to take advice from the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, going forward.

“To some extent, because we have areas that are (at a) really low vaccinated rate, … if you put in a broad-based restriction in the province of Manitoba that says you can’t go into a restaurant unless you’re vaccinated, that is kind of a regional restriction, because that applies most dramatically to those areas where there’s a low vaccination rate,” he said.

“When you’re putting in restrictions that rely specifically on vaccination, they do disproportionately affect those areas where there’s a low vaccination rate.”

Goertzen said he’d like to see a post-pandemic analysis — both in Manitoba and nationwide — to determine what did and didn’t work in terms of government response to COVID-19, not to point blame, but to create a “playbook” for future generations.

“I do agree that if we were to look back, and we went back to March of last year, would people do things differently? Of course they would.”

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“Would people say things differently? Sure they would, because we’re all learning as we went through this.

“People were building the plane as they were flying it.”

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