Manitoba Métis ‘left out’ of COVID-19 vaccine program are going directly to manufacturers

The leader of the Manitoba Métis Federation is so concerned his people are being excluded from the province’s COVID-19 immunization program that he’s going straight to the source and asking manufacturers to sell him doses.

MMF president David Chartrand says he’s sent letters to Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and even Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine is not yet approved for use in Canada because so far, his people have been “left out” of the process.

“I’m sitting here with 125,000 people who are not included in the vaccine rollout by this province. So I’m pleading with these pharmaceutical companies, give me a chance,” Chartrand said on Sunday.

“We are truly desperate.”

The province began immunizing the general public over the age of 95 on Wednesday, as well as First Nations people over 75. The age differential for First Nations people is 20 years because the pandemic is disproportionately affecting them, the province has said.

The lower age group doesn’t include Métis or Inuit people, though.Manitoba premier Brian Pallister said on Wednesday he would entertain reducing the eligibility age for Métis if it could be demonstrated they are at greater risk of experiencing more severe COVID-19 outcomes — as First Nations leaders did.

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand says he’s willing to spend the money to get COVID-19 vaccine doses for his people if the province won’t include them in the First Nations vaccine rollout plan. (Darrin Morash/CBC)

“If there’s science behind it, if it makes sense, we should proceed cooperatively to follow the science,” he said.

Chartrand said it’s well known that Métis face many similar health problems and lower life expectancy.

“We need to go out ourselves. We’ve got to save our own people know now. We’ve been doing it since the get go,” Chartrand said.

Manitoba lagging behind others

Manitoba is an outlier in this case. Provinces like B.C., Alberta and Ontario have made all Indigenous adults priorities in their respective vaccine rollouts, following federal direction.

Reagan Bartel, the director of health for the Métis Nation of Alberta says there’s evidence Métis people fare poorly when it comes to COVID-19.

“We know we have higher rates of COPD and other respiratory diseases, we know we have higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, we know we are impacted by other social determinants of health, such as housing concerns or educational concerns,” she said.

Some of that evidence isn’t well documented because she says there’s chronic underfunding of research about Métis communities.

Even so, the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI), Canada’s independent body on vaccines says all Indigenous people, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit need priority vaccination.

“By excluding one of these three groups, you’re not actually adhering to the guidelines that NACI is putting forward,” Bartel said.

“The new guidelines use the umbrella term Indigenous and that includes Métis people and excluding us from that point of Indigenous prioritization is just another way that colonial powers are exercised.”

Darlene Birch is a Métis elder who lives in Manitoba, the homeland of the Métis nation. She hopes her people will be included in the vaccine rollout, along with First Nations. (Submitted by Darlene Birch)

Manitoba Métis elder Darlene Birch says she’s not surprised her people are being excluded, but hopes she can get the vaccine soon.

“This is the home of the Métis people and we have a history of of not having our needs met adequately and and I think that it’s a process, but I think that we do need to speak out,” she said.

“I think that that we need to, as Métis people, be strong and representative and say what we need with the government.”