Demand for COVID-19 vaccines in Manitoba First Nations outpacing supply
In First Nations where people are hesitant to be inoculated, chiefs and elders lead by example
In many Manitoba First Nations, there are far more people who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine than there are available doses.
Within weeks of arrival, communities like Sagkeeng First Nation, York Factory First Nation, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Pimicikamak Cree Nation have used up all their doses on the most vulnerable members.
"We have 200 vaccines that arrived on Jan. 7. That was five [minutes to] 7 p.m. and by 7:07 we were able to vaccinate the first person right away," said Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias.
"We used 10 doses right away that same day, that same evening."
Shortly after, the community's leadership posted photos and names of those people.
Two elders even talked about their experience on local radio, "to show it's actually safe," said Monias.
"And they trust it — our people trust our elders."
From there, more came forward to get the vaccine.
"It's role modelling for the people," said Monias, adding he's been vocal about taking the vaccine himself.
Monias says that about two per cent of the population in Pimicikamak, about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has the first of the two doses required for the vaccine to be fully effective.
The second dose is expected to arrive next month.
Meanwhile, 0.31 per cent of the population of Manitoba is fully vaccinated, while across Canada the average is 0.3 per cent, according to data collected by CBC News.
Leading by example
Not everyone is jumping at the chance to be inoculated against the virus, though.
In Shamattawa First Nation, the majority of people are concerned about getting the vaccine, Chief Eric Redhead says. Of the 110 doses the community received, only 60 have been administered.
Health-care staff in the remote fly-in community, about 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, asked Redhead to get vaccinated to reassure members that it's safe.
He was vaccinated Thursday, and posted on Facebook about the experience.
"I know there is a lot of [mis]information out there on the internet," he wrote. "I encourage everyone to get vaccinated. It's your choice, no one will force you to get it, but please call the [nursing station] if you need more information on the vaccine.
"This is our path to a safe community. A path to normalcy."
Redhead says there's been a small increase in people getting the vaccine since his post.
"It's really unfortunate because we have this major breakthrough to help prevent the spread and literally save lives, and there's a lot of reluctancy in taking the vaccine. I really encourage everyone to get it," he said.
"I believe it's safe. I trust the scientists, I trust the doctors, the researchers. That's where I put my trust.... Anyone can post to Facebook, but these are professionals so I trust them."
In Peguis First Nation, about 40 kilometres north of Winnipeg, more people are getting in line to be vaccinated, but there is still some hesitancy.
That's why Chief Glenn Hudson and his councillers went public with their immunizations.
"I went live on Facebook to promote it amongst our First Nations people and to ensure that people that … can get vaccinated do get vaccinated. That's something we're promoting as leadership," he said.
He thinks it's making a difference.
"I know there were very close relatives of mine that spoke against the vaccination, but when they seen me do it, when the opportunity came for them, they decided to go with taking the vaccination," Hudson said.
Hudson hopes the First Nation is able to vaccinate about 700 people by the end of February, if supply allows.
That would be just shy of 15 per cent of the on-reserve population.
Hudson has also applied to Indigenous Services Canada to set up an immunization site for off-reserve members, of which there are roughly 6,000. There's no word yet on whether that will be approved.
With files from Erin Brohman