Manitoba’s First Nations pandemic response team works to dispel myths regarding COVID-19 vaccine

As COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to be distributed to First Nations in Manitoba, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) pandemic response team is working to dispel myths regarding vaccines.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, one of the Indigenous medical experts who have led the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team, said First Nations people need to have information that is relevant to them in the language they use so they can make informed decisions about whether or not to get the vaccine.

On Thursday, she released a video on her social media accounts talking about some of the medical research regarding the Moderna vaccine.

Since the pandemic began, the AMC has produced weekly Facebook live conversations hosted by Grand Chief Arlen Dumas and featuring Indigenous medical professionals from the pandemic response team.

“We really want them to have accurate, valid information because as we continue to move forward in this pandemic, First Nations people are being even more disproportionately impacted, and so uptake of the vaccine is a really critical tool for us to try to mitigate those disproportionate impacts,” said Anderson.

On Friday, the AMC said 50 per cent of all active COVID cases in Manitoba are among First Nations people.

Anderson said people should go to the AMC, Southern Chiefs Organization and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak for reliable information around the vaccine plan.

Addressing the fears

AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said some of the concerns that First Nations have around medical treatments are legitimate.

“We have to be honest about where the fear comes from,” he said.

“As younger people, in our experience, we have sort of escaped federally sanctioned experiments that were done on our population. These things that were happening to our peopleā€¦ There are people alive today that took part in these experiments. However, it is a different time and a different era.”

As the host of the Facebook lives, Dumas has put the spotlight on Indigenous medical experts to lead conversations and to answer any questions about COVID-19.

“It’s our own experts who are ensuring that the due diligence is done, the proper science is done,” said Dumas, on the research of the vaccines. 

“It’s not something that was done on the back of a napkin. We need to make sure that [people] have the proper information and they can see what’s there. We want to make sure that everyone can make those decisions for themselves.”

Association of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas has relied heavily on Indigenous medical experts to lead the First Nations pandemic response in Manitoba.

While the vaccination rollout plans are still in the early stages in Manitoba, Dumas said they are working with the province of Manitoba to make sure First Nations are a part of the decision-making process.

Anderson said front-line health-care workers, elders and people in personal care homes will be prioritized for vaccinations on-reserve and that more information will be coming soon about when communities will get doses of the vaccine.

For people living off-reserve in places like Winnipeg, Anderson said they should visit the Manitoba government’s website to see when they are eligible to receive the vaccine.