By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Younger First Nations members will be able to get vaccinated sooner in Manitoba as Indigenous people continue to face more serious health outcomes from COVID-19.
People over the age of 80 will be eligible for shots when the next stage of the province’s vaccine rollout begins in March. At that same time, doses will be made available for anyone who is First Nations and over the age of 60 living on or off reserve.
“In order to produce equitable outcomes, we have to have equitable allocation,” Marcia Anderson, public health lead for the First Nations pandemic response team, said Monday. “Equitable doesn’t mean equal.”
First Nations people make up more than 70 per cent of active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, Anderson said. They also account for 50 per cent of hospitalizations and 52 per cent of intensive care patients.
“This means we need to ensure First Nations in Manitoba have access to the vaccine in an equitable and timely way — both to protect those most at risk and to protect our health-care system from being overwhelmed,” Anderson said.
The average age of death from COVID-19 is 66 for First Nations members in Manitoba — 17 years younger than for non-Indigenous Manitobans. Overall, life expectancy for First Nations men and women is 11 years less than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
“It is essential that we ensure equitable access to vaccines for First Nations people to reduce their risk, but also to reduce the strain on hospitals and allow the reinstatement of services such as elective surgeries,” Health Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement.
First Nations have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic’s second wave. The five-day test positivity rate amongst First Nations is 19 per cent. It’s 7.9 per cent provincially and 4.2 per cent in Winnipeg.
There were three more deaths from COVID-19 and 89 new infections Monday. It was the fewest new cases since mid-October, but health officials expressed concern that 42 of the infections were in the northern health region.
Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, said northern or isolated communities often have crowded households and less access to health care. In many cases, people must leave the community to properly isolate if they’ve tested positive.
So far, 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine have been allocated to 63 First Nations communities. Another 5,300 are to be provided later this month to be used as followup doses. Health-care workers and people in care homes are being prioritized.
Anderson said an additional 1,200 doses have been made available immediately. That will allow for vaccinations of traditional healers and knowledge keepers.
“This is to acknowledge the key role that traditional healers and knowledge keepers play as part of our health workforce,” she said.