Vaccination push pays off for Pimicikamak and other Manitoba First Nations

The chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation says 65 per cent of his community's eligible population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Campaign credited with motivating 65% of eligible Pimicikamak residents to get shots

Pimicikimak Cree Nation Chief David Monias receives his second COVID-19 shot from University of Manitoba Rady Faculty of Health Dean Dr. Brian Postl. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

The chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation says 65 per cent of his community's eligible population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The community  — also known as Cross Lake, located about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg  held a mass vaccination clinic the last week of March, immunizing hundreds of members each day.

A second mass clinic was held over two days this week for anyone else who wanted the shot. 

"I'm very proud … it's a big community," said Chief David Monias.

"Our target number was 75 per cent of Cross Lake's adult population, so we did 65, so we're very close. And we're now looking to see, to strategize how we can reach the rest of our people."

Pimicikamak received 3,190 Moderna vaccines total, Monias said, 75 per cent of which were doled out in the community. 

Monias said a provincial team helped spearhead the clinic in March, while this week's was handled by the community's own health care workers. 

"We've been encouraging people to come, we've been on the radio station, Facebook Live for our people," he said during Friday's weekly Facebook COVID-19 conducted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"We've been very aggressive in actually promoting the vaccine."

Draw prizes were also a good incentive for people, Monias added, as they are with bingos or any other community event. He said his next priority is to ensure off-reserve members have access to the shot.

"Whatever I can do to help my people to make sure that they're safe from this virus."

Mass immunization clinics

Several Manitoba First Nations are wrapping up mass immunization clinics, after receiving larger allocations of the late shipment of 30,000 Moderna vaccines that arrived last week.

"I'm really proud of the first 11 communities that had the initial experience with the mass immunization campaign and their clinics; they've done quite well," said Melanie MacKinnon, who leads the pandemic response team established by the AMC.

Pimicikamak gave its remaining vaccines to the Integrated Vaccine Operations Centre — a First-Nations-led team that works with the federal government and many other organizations to execute the vaccine rollout — to distribute to another community.

"The stewardship has been remarkable to ensure that we're not wasting any doses and that, where appropriate, we are co-operating and sharing with other First Nation communities that are currently still waiting," said MacKinnon.

Peguis First Nation's mass vaccine clinic ended Friday.

"As far as achieving herd immunity in our community, I think we're close. We're probably in the 55-60 per cent range as far as our adults that have been inoculated. We're hoping to achieve 70 for herd immunity," said Chief Glenn Hudson. 

On Friday afternoon, 2,203 vaccines had been administered, he said, which would inoculate a significant portion of the on-reserve adult population. He said there are roughly 4,800 on-reserve members.

He added Peguis shared its vaccine supply with its RCMP, first responders, front-line workers, off-reserve members, political organizations like AMC and neighbouring non-First Nation villages.

"Going forward, we just wanted to ensure that no vaccines were spoiled or wasted, and it made sense to open it up to people that do business with Peguis and obviously frequent Peguis, because obviously we want to keep the community safe."

A resident becomes the first in Peguis First Nation to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Chief Glenn Hudson says more than 200 elders in the community have received both doses of the vaccine. (Peguis First Nation/Facebook)

Hudson added the community is doing an "education blitz" to make people aware of the vaccine and its safety, as well as door prizes to help encourage members to roll up their sleeves. For people who choose not to get the vaccine, he said, a vitamin program is available to help boost immunity.

Long Plain First Nation also shared some of its vaccine supply with its school staff, first responders and people from surrounding communities, although about two-thirds of the allocated 1,160 doses went to community members.

MacKinnon said going forward, as more communities receive their allocations of vaccine, they will have the option to start with 60 per cent of their share and receive the remainder later, to minimize wastage. 

Monias was proud that doctors and nurses from surrounding areas, as well as Thompson and Winnipeg, visited his community to see how the mass vaccination clinics work. 

He said in 1918, Cross Lake lost 45 per cent of its citizens to Spanish Flu a time where there were no pandemic teams or vaccines. 

"That was a lot of people and I was not going to let that happen again, not during my time as chief. I was doing everything I can to protect our people."

So far, nearly 23,000 First Nations people in Manitoba — about 60 per cent on reserve and 40 per cent off reserve — have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. More shipments are expected next week.

On Friday, the province lowered the eligibility age to 40 and over for First Nations people to receive the coronavirus vaccines.