Steinbach outreach centre hopes barbecue, COVID-19 vaccination clinic will help break down barriers
'Even if only one person gets it, that's more than there was before,' says event organizer
People stopping by the Steinbach Community Outreach centre for a barbecue on Thursday can get a meal or a COVID-19 vaccine — or both.
The centre, located at 345 Loewen Blvd. in Steinbach, is holding a vaccine clinic with the hope of reaching people in the southeastern Manitoba city who might be hesitant or face barriers when it comes to getting the jab.
"Even if only one person gets it, that's more than there was before," said organizer Charlene Kroeker.
Federal Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has warned Canada could be seeing the start of a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, driven by the more infectious delta coronavirus variant.
Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead for Manitoba's vaccination task force, says while public health officials expect a fourth wave, the goal now is to try to limit the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and deaths.
"We know that there are still pockets where there will be enough people who are susceptible that the virus will be able to circulate," Reimer said in a Wednesday interview with CBC News.
"But the higher we get the vaccine rate overall, the smaller the chance of that happening becomes."
As of Wednesday, 80.6 per cent of Manitobans age 12 and up had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But in the Steinbach health district, located in the Southern Health region, that number drops to 59.8 per cent. In the Hanover district surrounding Steinbach, the rate is just over 45 per cent.
"We know in Manitoba it's not equally spread out across the whole province having the equal amount of protection," said Reimer. "So, the communities where we're seeing lower amounts of vaccine uptake, we're really worried that we're going to see outbreaks when we get to our next wave."
Reimer said the more people who get immunized, the better the protection will be for kids under 12, who can't yet get shots since there are no COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada for that age group.
"We don't want to see outbreaks in schools, we don't want to send kids home, we don't want to have to cancel their sports," she said.
Don't expect sudden jump in uptake: Reimer
The province has been working to reach those who are vaccine hesitant in a variety of ways, including partnering with doctors and pharmacists in communities with low uptake.
"They are seen as trusted voices, trusted experts," said Reimer. "But one-on-one conversations take a lot of time."
That means she doesn't expect to see sudden jumps in vaccine uptake in communities where it's currently low.
"I expect that we'll see, you know, a slow trickle as we can meet with people and talk through their concerns and help them feel more comfortable bit by bit."
Kroeker hopes Thursday's event in Steinbach, which starts at 3 p.m., will help people get the answers they're seeking about the vaccine.
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Steinbach Community Outreach is one of more than 40 community partners in the province that have received funding through a provincial grant program for community outreach initiatives.
The province announced in June it would offer grants of up to $20,000 each to partners with projects aimed at providing information about COVID-19 vaccines and reaching communities with low vaccine uptake.
Kroeker said clients she works with at Steinbach Community Outreach have a variety of reasons for not being immunized, including lack of internet access, misinformation and mistrust.
A pharmacist will be at Thursday's event to administer the shots, but there will also be doctors and nurses available to answer any questions people have about vaccines, said Kroeker.
"This event will be more, I think, about sharing information," she said. "And then while they're there and we're sharing this information, then maybe they have enough confidence to go in and get their vaccine."