Health officials say First Nations peoples face inequity when it comes to COVD-19 concerns but are hoping their vaccination plan will save lives.

Starting as early as Monday, doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are heading up north to 63 First Nations communities. Dr. Marcia Anderson, the vice dean of Indigenous health, and public health lead for Manitoba First Nation PRCT, says 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine are heading north.

"First Nations people are experiencing several and significant effects of COVID-19 with an increasing percentage of cases and overrepresentation in cases, hospitalizations, ICU admission and deaths," the doctor says.

dr maria andersonDr. Marcia Anderson grew up in Winnipeg and has family roots in Peguis First Nations and Norway House Cree Nation. (Screenshot: Government of Manitoba/YouTube)

She says since Friday, 261 covid-19 cases in First Nations, making up 70 per cent of all new cases, and 73 per cent of presumed active cases in Manitoba. Anderson says half of all COVID-19 hospitalizations are First Nations people and 52 per cent of all ICU patients are First Nations. The five-day test positive rate for First Nations communities is 19 per cent.

So far, 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine have been allocated to First Nations communities. The province says 5,300-second doses will arrive in mid-to late-February.

The first group to be vaccinated using 1,200 doses of Moderna include:

  • Health-care workers in remote/ isolated communities
  • residents and staff of personal care homes or ElderCare facilities
  • individuals 60 years and over in remote/ isolated communities
  • individuals 70 years and over in non-remote communities

Anderson says that healthcare workers in these regions who are not First Nations will be eligible for the vaccines. Some spiritual healers and knowledge keepers will eligible for the vaccine regardless of where they are located. 

General First Nations population vaccines will start at a lower age due to the average lifespan of First Nations being shorter than the rest of Manitoba by approximately 11 years. 

First Nations populations have been the most affected by the pandemic, as generations of facing racism and colonialism have affected their ability today to access the same healthcare as non-Indigenous people.

"These disproportionate effects of COVID-19 that are being experienced by the First Nations people are not due to inherent vulnerability," Anderson says. "Rather, this increasing proportion of new cases and overrepresentation amongst hospitalizations and of ICU admissions is rooted in long-standing structural factors."

Things such as inequitable healthcare and overcrowding in homes are making it difficult for those who have COVID-19 to recover and prevent the spread. The vaccines heading north are to help provide equity to a population that already face health concerns, aside from the virus.

"We need to make sure First Nations people in Manitoba have access to the vaccine in an equitable and timely way." 

The vaccines will be given by FIT teams, similar in structure to the PCH teams, and a pop-up will soon open in Winnipeg. Other cities, such as Thompson and The Pas, are in the works to have vaccination sites open over the next month.

First Nation vaccination doses will not be affected by the dose being reserved for second PCH doses, despite both being Moderna doses. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical officer of health and medical lead of the Vaccine Implementation Task Force, says the two supplies are not connected and have their own planning.