First Nation offered vaccines to those outside community to avoid wasted doses

A southern Manitoba First Nation struggling to entice its members to be vaccinated allowed more than 100 people outside of the community to get the shot to prevent the doses from being wasted.

Dennis Meeches, the chief of Long Plain First Nation says word got out about a vaccine clinic, which was held last Wednesday in Portage la Prairie, Man., and dozens of people showed up to line around the block.

He says the clinic was meant to provide doses for on and off-reserve members, but only 69 members were immunized that day, and the vaccines were set to expire in 10 days.

“The numbers weren’t the best for Long Plain members so we extended that to employees, off-reserve members, employees and then we went a little bit beyond that,” Meeches said. 

Of the 253 doses given on Wednesday, 124 were given to people who heard about the clinic through word of mouth but aren’t connected to the community.

Long Plain First Nation chief Dennis Meeches says the community didn’t want to waste vaccine doses, so some people who weren’t eligible got the shot at a clinic in Portage la Prairie last Wednesday. (Submitted by Dennis Meeches)

In addition, 39 were given to Portage School Division staff and tradespeople who do work with Long Plain, Meeches said.

“I think it was the right thing to do. Obviously we don’t want the vaccines to go to waste. I think it’s quite important to make sure people do get the vaccines who want them.”

So far, two-thirds of all vaccines the First Nation has received — 330 out of 525 — have been given to members.

Meeches believes vaccinating as many people as possible is good for everyone.

Dennis Meeches is the chief of Long Plain First Nation. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“Being able to achieve herd immunity, I think we’re all in this together.”

However, Manitoba’s First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team says this practice isn’t encouraged.

“We appreciate the generosity of our First Nation community leadership and the general public’s anticipation of the vaccine. This is not an encouraged practice moving forward but every effort will be made in follow up to second doses,” it said in an emailed statement.

The team says it will continue to work with communities to adhere to provincial eligibility protocols.

Any unused doses will be sent to another community to prevent wastage, the team says. Going forward, communities have the option to accept multiple smaller shipments as opposed to one large one, which will help alleviate these challenges in the future.

Meeches says 110 of its doses will be sent to neighbouring Dakota Plains First Nation.

“We would’ve loved to see more Long Plain people accept the vaccine, but that’s a bit of a challenge,” he said.

Vaccine hesitancy

The challenge — like in many other jurisdictions, First Nations and otherwise — is vaccine hesitancy.

“I think it’s all over the world. The misinformation that’s out there on social media, people are concerned by vaccines because the long-term effects we still don’t know,” Meeches said.

Long Plain First Nation member Melanie Ferris got vaccinated last month. Not all members have jumped at the chance to get their dose. (Submitted by Melanie Ferris)

“We can’t force them to take the vaccine, but we can do what we can to make it available.”

Beyond that, Meeches says people who come in contact with members can be vaccinated.

“If Long Plain people are declining the vaccine for whatever reason, we should have that ability to just offer to people that we work with, trades, paramedics. I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The First Nations Pandemic Response Team says it’s working to combat misinformation through print, radio and social media platforms.