The medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force is urging non-Indigenous people to abstain from getting their jabs at urban Indigenous COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
Vaccination clinics designated for Indigenous people living in urban areas, as well as people experiencing homeless, were opened last month in Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Thompson.
The clinics were opened, in part, because COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on First Nations people in Manitoba. But the province’s vaccine implementation task force has heard reports of non-Indigenous people showing up to get vaccinated at the urban Indigenous sites.
“These clinics are designed to increase accessibility and provide culturally safe spaces for First Nations — both status and non-status — Métis and Inuit peoples,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the vaccine task force, during a technical briefing Friday.
“When non-Indigenous people make appointments or use the walk-in spaces at those sites, it limits access for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.”
COVID-19 hit First Nations across Canada hard since the pandemic’s second wave, largely due to socio-economic factors such as crowded housing and greater rates of chronic illnesses.
In Manitoba, the Canadian Armed Forces was called in six times to help with outbreaks on reserves.
Of Manitoba’s 4,163 known active COVID-19 cases, 929 are among First Nations people, according to data from the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team.
Over one-quarter of Manitoba’s hospitalizations are First Nations people, and nearly one-third of ICU patients are First Nations members, the team’s data shows.
Those figures do not include data for Inuit and Métis people in Manitoba.
There are great efforts being made to ensure Indigenous people build trust in the COVID-19 vaccines and the shots are accessible to those who want to roll up their sleeves. The urban Indigenous vaccination clinics were part of those initiatives.
“It’s very important that we provide these options to serve the urban Indigenous communities that are experiencing these higher risks and do it in a way that is as low-barrier as possible,” said Reimer.
Only people who self-identify as Indigenous or share a household with someone who identifies as Indigenous should attend the urban vaccination clinics, said Reimer.
Non-Indigenous people who don’t meet that criteria are asked to book appointments at vaccine supersites, temporary clinics or doctors’ offices and pharmacies, she said.
Peguis clinic brings Indigenous people to the front of the line
Organizers of mass vaccine clinics for Peguis First Nation have come up with a way to work around the issue.
The First Nation, which is about 160 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, has organized mass vaccination clinics for days at a time. On Thursday and Friday, one was held at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg.
“We’ve had [members] where they had to take some extra time off to get vaccinated. Some people, transportation issues,” said Denise Bear, acting health director of the Peguis Health Centre, who helped the vaccine task force organize the clinic.
“Setting up a clinic in Winnipeg was just more convenient for them.”
When the clinic opened at 10 a.m. Thursday, the lineup spanned about 250 metres, with band members and non-Indigenous people, said Bear.
But the clinic had security guards who, if there was a lineup, would pull Indigenous people to the front because that’s the priority group for the Moderna vaccine doses the clinic had, she said.
The team at the clinic administered 600 doses of Moderna Thursday and had given another 170 by the time they spoke with CBC News on Friday. There were 200 doses left at that time, said Bear.
“It was a really good turnout,” she said, adding that at least 500 of those doses were given to Peguis members.
One of the people vaccinated at the clinic was Sylvie Paquette, who was apprehensive of the vaccine due to the short period of time it has been around.
Paquette was excited about going to the Assiniboia Downs clinic Friday. Her anxiety was getting the better of her during the immunization, but she felt OK afterward, she said.
“I’m glad I did it,” said Paquette. After hearing of the 567 new COVID-19 cases reported in Manitoba Thursday, she said, “You can’t sit on that fence for too long. You have to start making decisions and hope for the best.”
A total of 63,672 vaccine doses have been administered to First Nations people as of Friday, data from the First Nations pandemic response co-ordination team shows.
Nearly 60 per cent of First Nations people on-reserve have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while nearly one-third of those off-reserve were vaccinated as of Thursday, provincial data shows.