Widespread first-dose COVID-19 immunizations will begin in First Nation communities throughout the province, Northern Affairs communities and remote northern municipalities in mid-March, Dr. Marcia Anderson, public health lead of the Manitoba First Nation Pandemic Response Coordination Team, and Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force, announced today.
“We know First Nations people in Manitoba are more at risk of COVID-19 and at younger ages. In addition, many of these communities may face evacuation due to fires and floods or have geographical issues that make it hard to get there,” said Anderson. “It’s important to get needles into arms as soon as possible and detailed planning is now underway to schedule vaccinations in these communities.”
Communities at risk of flooding, fire or losing winter road access or where access is across a waterway will be prioritized first. The community prioritization index will then include communities that have experienced high fatality rates due to COVID-19 and significant outbreaks. This will help ensure those that may be affected by spring or summer emergencies do not have issues compounded by the pandemic.
In total, 63 First Nation communities across the province, six northern rural municipalities and 47 Northern Affairs communities will be included in the community prioritization index. Northern Affairs communities include Métis, First Nation and non-Indigenous populations.
Anderson noted that reaching these communities in one trip is more effective than making multiple trips, especially for First Nations that are challenging to access. Therefore, community residents aged 18 and over will be eligible to receive their vaccine at a community-based vaccination site. Communities may also choose to travel to Vaxport in Thompson for the vaccine. Vaxport would schedule eligible residents to travel by air or motor coach to be immunized and then return home the same day.
It is expected that all eligible, consenting adults who live in these prioritized communities will have received their first dose by mid-May.
People living in Thompson, The Pas, the RM of Kelsey and Flin Flon will continue to access COVID-19 immunizations at the super site in Thompson, or at other mobile clinics or pop-up sites that will be held in the future. Individuals living in these larger centres will continue to follow provincial age-based eligibility criteria.
“More Manitobans will continue to be eligible to be immunized sooner, based on our decision to extend the timeframe between first and second doses by up to four months,” said Reimer. “This approach will continue to ensure people living in larger centres in the north have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, while also recognizing the broader risks related to access facing other people living in more remote or at-risk communities.”
Anderson noted that as communities are being prioritized, work is also underway to plan for staffing to provide the immunizations in these communities.
“We are working to determine a number of factors, such as how vaccines will be delivered and how many people will be needed to provide immunizations in these communities,” said Anderson. “We will be reaching out to communities as soon as possible to let them know more details as the schedule and these kinds of logistics are finalized.”
For more information on Manitoba’s vaccine program, visit www.manitoba.ca/vaccine.