Manitoba slightly expands eligibility criteria for COVID-19 immunizations

The Manitoba government has slightly expanded the eligibility criteria for health-care workers who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Indigenous communities still waiting to hear how Moderna vaccine will be distributed, Grand Chief says

There were 2,177 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered in Manitoba, as of Dec. 23, the province said. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Manitoba government has slightly expanded the eligibility criteria for health-care workers who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Health-care workers at long-term care and acute care facilities, who were born by Dec. 31, 1964 and work directly with patients, are now eligible for the vaccine, the province said in its latest vaccine bulletin.

Previously, the criteria was being born before 1962. 

Health-care workers working with patients in critical care units or in COVID-19 immunization clinics or testing sites remain eligible as well.

There were 2,177 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered in Manitoba, as of Dec. 23, according to the bulletin.

The next immunizations will be given at the University of Manitoba's Bannatyne campus from Dec. 29-31.

The immunization clinic will move to the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg on Jan. 4, 2021. First-dose appointments for Jan. 4-10 are currently being scheduled, the bulletin said.

About 800 first dose appointments have been made so far and there remain roughly 5,000 appointments available, the province said.

Once people receive their first dose of the COVID-19 at the convention centre, second-dose appointments will take place from Jan. 25-31.

The province says the phone line to book vaccine appoints is open to eligible health-care workers from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day until all spaces are filled.

Individuals should not call to make an appointment unless they meet the eligibility criteria, the province said.

First Nations waiting for news on Moderna doses

Last week, Health Canada approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which the federal government promised would go to northern, remote, and Indigenous communities first.

The Moderna vaccine requires two doses, but is easier to transport and store than the Pfizer-BioNTech because it only needs to be stored at -20 C. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored in ultra-low temperature freezers at -70 C.

The federal government said 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine could be shipped to Canada by the end of December. But Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, says Indigenous communities in Manitoba are waiting to hear about how the province will distribute the Moderna vaccine and how many doses it's receiving.

"We had helped develop sort of a Phase 1 plan and we've made a considerable effort," said Dumas. "We have met with the province on their terms on how they're wanting to move forward. They had come forward asking for some advice and some strategies on how to do it.

"Now we're waiting to hear back from them. So essentially, the ball's in their court."

The impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous people and communities has been a pressing issue throughout Canada during the second wave of the pandemic, but especially in Manitoba.

Of the 63 First Nations in the province, 54 have reported a case of COVID-19 as of Dec. 18, according to a weekly bulletin issued by the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 pandemic response coordination team.

The government of Canada promised northern, remote, and Indigenous communities would be first in line for the Moderna vaccine once it was approved, because it is easier to ship and store. (Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press)

As of Dec. 24, there were 1,335 known active COVID-19 cases on Manitoba First Nations, and 781 known active cases off-reserve, according to the latest daily bulletin issued by the Manitoba First Nations pandemic response team.

There have also been 89 First Nations people in Manitoba who have died from COVID-19 as of Dec. 24, according to the latest bulletin.

"Everybody's being touched and we need to figure out how to best deal with that, and how to best protect everyone," said Dumas. 

Dumas didn't want to speculate too much into how the Moderna doses would be prioritized, but said it would likely go to the communities that need it most, and that health-care workers would likely be the first priority group. Then, other demographics and communities would be prioritized based on who is most at risk, he said.

Another challenge will be to educate Indigenous people about the vaccine to build trust, as there is a history of the federal government using that population as test subjects, said Dumas.

"We cannot deny the reality that the vaccinations help, but we also can't deny the reality that people have done untoward and very evil things in the past," he said. "So we need  to win over the confidence of our members."

Part of the reason the Manitoba First Nations pandemic response team was created, Dumas says, was to have Indigenous health experts telling other Indigenous people the situation and how to stay safe.

Members of the response team, such as Dr. Marcia Anderson, will be critical in building that trust, he said.

With files from Karen Pauls