Mass COVID-19 vaccinations are underway in First Nations across Manitoba but some leadership are still dealing with vaccine hesitancy resulting in concerns about wastage.
Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN), located about 850 km north of Winnipeg, received nearly 1,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine last month, and within a week the community was putting needle in arms.
But Chief Marcel Moody told APTN News uptake has been slow.
They have only used approximately 51 per cent of the available supply.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for such a long time it would be such a shame to not use them,” said Moody.
“We’ve been in this pandemic for over a year and people are getting tired, people are getting anxious, people are getting frustrated. So are we. We have to make sure we’re doing our best to protect our community.”
First Nations across the province have spent the past few weeks preparing to vaccinate any adults who are wanting to be immunized.
This means converting facilities such as gyms or arenas into mass vaccination clinics.
In NCN the Canadian Armed Forces were on hand for four days to help with the roll out.
Prior to the opening day of the clinic Moody, along with other staff members, got vaccinated and shared videos and pictures to social media with hopes of easing some members’ concerns but Moody said he’s steal dealing with vaccine hesitancy with some of his people.
“That’s the frustrating part from my perspective because people think this virus is not real and they listen to the conspiracy theorists on Facebook. They think it’s a hoax; it’s not real, but when it impacts our communities people know its real,” he said.
Moody believes there could be other reasons for the low uptake.
NCN has faired better than some other northern communities with only seven COVID-19 cases.
He credits strict lockdown protocols enforced early on in the community.
However, just this week a case was recorded in the nation.
Moody hopes this reminds members the virus is still a concern.
“People need to take the vaccine to protect themselves,” he said.
To help with the clinic roll out NCN is one of many communities who offered members prizes for those who opted to get the vaccine.
Pimicikamak Cree Nation also gave away prizes when they started their mass immunization efforts last month.
“It’s not any different than what we do on a regular basis when we have events. We have door prizes for Indian Days for Trapper’s Festival for meetings and so forth,” Chief David Monias told APTN.
Monias said past trauma at the hands of the Canadian medical system make some members question taking the vaccine.
This is why he volunteered to take one of the first doses of Moderna when the first small batch arrived in the northern community in January.
About 3,200 doses were sent to Pimicikamak last month and as of this week 60 per cent of the adult population is vaccinated.
“It’s a good start. I don’t think that we thought we would vaccinate that many people. We are quite optimistic in terms of looking at 75 per cent,” said Monias.
“That’s always been our target but we also knew that there’s a lot of people that are doing a lot of fear mongering in regard to the vaccine.”
The community has been dealing with various outbreaks over the past couple of months.
While they currently only have a handful of active cases, Monias is concerned about variants spreading.
“We hear that it’s effecting more young people, it’s putting people in hospital, it spreads faster,” he said.
“If you’re not going to do it for yourself do it for the children, do it for your families, do it for your elders.”
There have been close to 300 variant cases in the province with none being confirmed on a First Nation.
In February, there was reports variants were found in Pimicikamak and Pauingassi First Nation but further testing determined this was not the case.
Meanwhile, one community in the south has recently had to give away vaccines to a nearby small city.
Long Plain First Nation set up their clinic last week but after low uptake from band members they decided to offer a small number of doses to school division staff in Portage la Prairie along with other local businesses.
“They’re not necessarily from Long Plain but obviously quite concerned we did not want these vaccines to go to waste so we allowed it,” Chief Dennis Meeches told CTV Winnipeg.
“Unless somebody tries to attempt to block us from doing what we need to do we have to open it up and we will.”
The Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Team, who oversees vaccine distribution to First Nations, told APTN any unused doses will be redirected to other communities, and in the future smaller vaccines could be sent to avoid wastage.