Manitoba

Manitoba to receive larger share of Moderna vaccine because of high Indigenous population, premier says

Manitoba's allotment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which is expected to be approved by Health Canada soon, has been increased because of the higher proportion of First Nations people in the province, Premier Brian Pallister says.

Pallister credits Indigenous leaders for province getting 15% more than initially allotted

A nurse prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. (Hans Pennink/Associated Press)

Manitoba will receive extra doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, expected to be approved by Health Canada soon, because of the higher proportion of First Nations people in the province.

Premier Brian Pallister said he got confirmation from Ottawa late Monday the province will receive 15 per cent more of the vaccine than it was originally scheduled to get.

Instead of receiving 66,000 doses, Manitoba's allotment of the Moderna vaccine has now been bumped up to 75,600.

Pfizer's two-dose vaccine, which should be distributed across Canada starting next week, must be stored in a freezer at temperatures below –60 C.

The Moderna vaccine does not require those temperatures, making it a better option to transport to more isolated communities, including remote First Nations.

Pallister attributed the increased allotment to the work of Indigenous leaders.

The federal government had proposed doling out COVID-19 vaccines to the provinces based on population, with a portion of the vaccine reserved for Indigenous communities, Pallister said at a news conference last week.

The premier said if that is the case, he wanted Ottawa to provide an additional amount of vaccines to Manitoba because it has a higher Indigenous population than other provinces.

Concerns for urban Indigenous vaccination

Once the Moderna vaccine is approved, Indigenous leadership plan to set up clinics both on and off-reserve, according to Jerry Daniels, Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization, which represents First Nations in southern Manitoba.

The hope is to give the first doses to First Nations elders, especially those with compromised immune systems.

Daniels said they're still not sure how Manitoba's large urban Indigenous population will receive the vaccine, since they rely more on the province for their health care.

"On reserve, First Nations have a bit more co-ordinative responsibility," Daniels said. "We have concerns with the off-reserve, and the way the province may dictate the vaccination rollout."

"It's going to be dependent on how the province prioritizes the limited amount of vaccinations that they're going to be acquiring," he said.

First Nations leaders haven't heard how the Manitoba government plans to prioritize the limited number of doses it will receive — and what portion will go to First Nations people living off-reserve, Daniels said.

"It's really just a wait and see," he said.

Manitoba has more than 220,000 Indigenous people, representing 18 per cent of the province's population. Among the Indigenous population, more than 130,000 are First Nations people (the others are Métis and Inuit), and about half of the First Nations population lives off-reserve, according to the 2016 census.

First Nations represent half of COVID patients in ICU

Meanwhile, the grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said Manitoba's premier hasn't met with him since April.

"First Nations leaders must be involved in the planning for the distribution of the vaccines as there are severe outcomes for First Nations people who have COVID-19 in Manitoba," MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a statement.

"Statistics clearly show that First Nations people need to be prioritized for the vaccine, regardless of whether they live on- or off-reserve."

The most recent data shows the median age of death from COVID for First Nations is 66 years old, compared to 88 for other Manitobans. 

While they are only 10.5 per cent of the population in Manitoba, First Nations represent a third of the province's current COVID hospitalizations and nearly half of the people in ICU.

Arlen Dumas, the head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the numbers are a clear example of the inequities First Nations are facing in the pandemic, which can be attributed to historical inequities including overcrowding, inadequate water and limited access to health care.

Dumas said First Nations communities are prepared and ready to roll out the vaccine, but the provincial government needs to include their health experts in its decision-making.

"We have the networks, we have the people available, to help facilitate the vaccine," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca

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