Manitoba premier says COVID-19 vaccine rollout is 'lifeboat time,' calls for more clarity from Ottawa
Premier criticized for suggesting early distribution to First Nations would lead to surge in travellers
Manitoba's premier says he wants to see a federal plan for who will be in charge of distributing a COVID-19 vaccine, and called on Ottawa to determine which Canadians will get access first.
"This is lifeboat time," Premier Brian Pallister said in a news conference Tuesday, predicting there will be a "rush" of people who want the vaccine when it becomes available.
"We know that we can't have everybody on the limited number of lifeboats that are going to appear, as vaccines come in limited numbers."
Federal officials said Tuesday Ottawa is planning for vaccines to arrive in Canada in the first three months of 2021. Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she's hopeful the vaccine will be available before the end of March, provided they receive Health Canada approvals.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said front line health-care workers and marginalized groups — including seniors in long-term care homes — are likely to be among the first to get access to the vaccine. That decision, however, will ultimately lie with the provinces and territories themselves, Tam said.
Pallister said Tuesday it's clear more vulnerable people need access to the vaccine first, but "the devil's in the details" in making that happen.
"Should it be done on the basis of age, or how do you determine vulnerability? Should it be done on the basis of ethnicity, should it be done on the basis of race in some way? These questions have to be addressed," Pallister said.
I have raised this with the prime minister, with my colleagues, I believe there are a number of premiers who agree with me."
Premier's comments on First Nations' access 'uninformed': AMC
Pallister said Tuesday distributing a COVID-19 vaccine to remote First Nations before other parts of the province could create an "outpouring" of people visiting those communities to access vaccines early.
"If a vaccine's made available on northern reserves before it's available in southern Manitoba, we're going to have an outpouring, a migration, of folks, naturally, who want to get vaccinated up to northern communities, maybe taking COVID with them," he said.
In a written statement from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas called the premier's comment "uninformed."
"If the premier is truly interested and concerned about vaccine rollouts, especially concerning First Nations, I encourage him to properly reach out prior to informing us via media questions," Dumas said in the release.
WATCH | Manitoba premier raises concerns over vaccine rollout to First Nations
In an interview with CBC News, Dumas said the First Nations Pandemic Response Team — which includes a team of experts that work with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs — has already been part of conversations with provincial health leaders about vaccine deployment in Manitoba.
"We're more than capable of ensuring that, you know, the vaccines and these initiatives go where they're needed. And sometimes it's important to take that direction."
The belief that vaccines are most needed in the north is a "misunderstanding," he said.
"Our own numbers show that our off-reserve members are just as vulnerable and are just in a precarious situation and a lot of them live in the south," he said.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Pallister's comments on the rollout of vaccines to First Nations are fear-mongering and discriminatory.
"That's an absolutely contemptible thing to say," Lamont said Tuesday. "It makes no sense. I don't think it's based in, even remotely based on, reality."
Official Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the premier is doing a disservice to Manitobans by not releasing further information.
He said the premier's lifeboat analogy for vaccines was inappropriate.
"When we're talking lifeboats, we think of the Titanic [and] the fact that not everyone made it off."
With files from Bartley Kives, Ian Froese and Aidan Geary