Adults living, working in Winnipeg COVID-19 hot spots say they're eager for vaccination
More needs to be done to get information to people without internet, fear of vaccine, community groups say
Christine Grayda was listening to the radio news during the lunch hour on Friday when some news perked her ears.
The Manitoba government expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility Friday to include any adults living, or serving in certain front-line positions, in three Winnipeg areas: Downtown East, Point Douglas South and Inkster East.
Grayda, who lives around Inkster, confirmed she was one of about 35,000 people living or working within the boundaries, and booked appointments for herself and her husband. They are each slated to get their first dose of the vaccine on May 8.
"I felt relieved," said Grayda, 30. "I kind of assumed that we would be last on the list to get the vaccines."
Until now, Manitoba's vaccine eligibility primarily hinged on age. First Nations people and some Manitobans working closely with the public, such as health-care workers, were prioritized too.
But Manitoba officials had hinted at expanding vaccine eligibility to people living in COVID-19 hot spots for a couple of weeks.
Those hot spots were selected based on public health data from the pandemic's second wave and the ongoing third wave. That data showed which parts of the province had high rates of COVID-19 transmission and where residents suffered more severe outcomes of the illness.
Some socio-economic factors, such as average income, profession and the number of Black, Indigenous or people of colour living in the area, were considered as well.
The boundaries announced Friday correspond with their respective health districts. They cover downtown Winnipeg, all of Point Douglas, a portion of the North End, as well as Inkster — from Notre Dame Avenue to just south of the Maples neighbourhood.
Friday's announcement was good news to Dan Degagne, who has been anxiously waiting his turn in and often checking where he is in the vaccination lineup on the province's website.
"I'm very eager to get on board with that," said Degagne, adding he was waiting behind at least 100,000 people in the queue.
"I'm very passionate about doing my part during this pandemic and being as careful as possible. So I know it would make me feel better, and the people around me better, to get that done."
Friday's announcement is also welcome news for Winnipeggers working in certain front-line positions in the hot spots.
People working at schools, food processing facilities, food establishments — such as a restaurant or soup kitchen — and grocery or convenience stores are now eligible if the workplace is located within the identified hot spots.
People working as child-care or daycare providers, food or public health inspectors, or workplace safety and health officers in the areas are eligible too.
"We can't close the door. We keep opening, but sometimes it's just really scary," said Hin Dang, owner of Banh Mi King, a Vietnamese restaurant on Portage Avenue in downtown Winnipeg.
"If we have a chance to get the vaccine, I have to, full stop. [We] have to do the vaccine as soon as possible."
Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of Manitoba's vaccine task force, told reporters Friday that more geographic areas in Manitoba will be announced for vaccine priority next week.
Getting information to those without internet
The hot spots announced Friday cover some of Winnipeg's poorest neighbourhoods, and there are many residents in those areas without internet access.
Tara Zajac, executive director of the North Point Douglas Women's Centre, says the province has to find a way to get information about the vaccine to those residents.
"I don't think we've heard much about how they're doing that. And I do think that's a big part of the population that they are missing," Zajac told CBC News Friday.
Throughout the pandemic, staff and volunteers at the women's centre — which includes the Mama Bear Clan community street patrol group — have made sure their community is up to date on the latest public health information.
That includes handing out flyers with information about proper hand hygiene and what's not allowed under current public health rules. The flyers are added to each of the 125 food hampers delivered throughout the neighbourhood every week.
It's a responsibility the centre takes on because they want everyone to be safe, Zajac said, but printing costs add up quickly.
"If we can have volunteers go out and educate the community, I do feel that the province could also have outreach workers walking around in pairs," she said.
She'd also like to see support to help groups get information out, "whether it is the cost of the printing or the wagon to put the supplies in."
Addressing vaccine hesitancy
Staff at nearby Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre are doing similar work, but help with concerns about the vaccine would also go a long way, said spokesperson Rosalyn Boucha.
Ma Mawi is opening one of Winnipeg's first COVID-19 immunization clinics aimed at urban Indigenous people.
The centre has been handing out fact sheets with timely information about vaccines leading up to the clinic's opening next week, but it could use support from the province — such as help answering questions and addressing vaccine hesitancy — Boucha said.
"We know as Indigneous people that navigating the health-care system has not always been a friendly process," said Boucha, who is Anishinaabe from Animakee Wa Zhing 37 First Nation in northwestern Ontario.
"This is our way of being there for our relatives and creating a safe and caring environment to support them through the process, because we have that experience first-hand."
Zajac, who has worked at the North Point Douglas Women's Centre for nine years, is excited that her staff can get vaccinated now because it will help ease concerns around the shot in Point Douglas, she said.
"Instead of maybe reading it on a piece of paper or hearing about it third-hand, now [they're] able to actually have those conversations with people that they trust, people that they've known for a long time."
With files from Cory Funk, Ian Froese and Rosanna Hempel