A local leader says after helping newcomers and people in her community learn about the COVID-19 vaccine, she was overjoyed to get hers.

Maysoun Darweesh is MMC Manitoba's Program Coordinator for Migration and Resettlement, a board member with Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba, and Executive Director of Kurdish Initiative For Refugees Inc., an organization she started with her late husband, Nour Ali. As a refugee herself, Darweesh has spent many years fostering relationships with Manitoba's Kurdish community, which recently has including talking about the pandemic and vaccine.

"Vaccine culture is very common, but because of all the propaganda against the vaccine and anti-vaxxers, people have lots of concerns whether the vaccine is safe," Darweesh says. 

As most people who immigrate to Canada require vaccinations, Darweesh says people have been mostly receptive to the COVID-19 vaccine. She often compares it to the flu shot.

She says when people are concerned often they are open to discussing the vaccine and getting information. 

"We have good connections with the province and other organizations to get the fact sheets,"' she says. "We always try to gather our efforts and collaborate in order to provide proper information."

As not all people in her own Kurdish community are able to read or understand English, Darweesh has been doing a lot of talking. 

"Some people cannot read, unfortunately, so they need to hear things verbally. They know that I am very approachable."

On Wednesday, Health Minister Heather Stefanson announced a new language service for Manitobans booking their vaccine appointment. 

“Being able to access care in your preferred language helps people better understand the information they’re being provided and makes the experience more comfortable," Stefanson says in a statement.

When calling to book an appointment, people can indicate they need a translator and one will be connected to the call. Translators will also be available for vaccination appointments. These translation services include ASL.

Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the province's COVID-19 immunization task force, says she knows how difficult it is to ask for medical care in a second or third language and is hopeful translators will instil confidence.

Immigration Partnership Winnipeg's director Hani Ataan Al-Ubeady says "one of the persistent barriers to accessing the vaccine for these communities is having access to information and support in their first/preferred language" in a release with the Health Minister.

When AstraZeneca opened up to Manitobans aged 40 and older, Darweesh jumped at the opportunity. She is hoping by leading by example others will also get the vaccine.

"I hope my words will encourage more people to get the vaccine. You have no idea how happy I was after I got it."

Darweesh is sharing her experience with others, including her only side effect of a sore arm the next day.

"I can't describe it, to be honest. It is unbelievable. I told people 'the happiness that will fill your heart is really worth it."