When the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Pimicikamak Cree Nation last week, the chief asked for 10 elder volunteers to receive the first doses. Almost immediately, there was a lineup at the nursing station, Chief David Monias says.
Active cases on reserve in First Nations communities across Canada has reached an all-time high with 4,384 reported as of Jan. 12. Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) announced Wednesday $1.2-billion in new funding for Indigenous communities to continue fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
ISC has reported a total of 11,502 confirmed cases on reserves since March, of which 3,082 were in Manitoba – just as an influx of vaccines has arrived. Remote Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba is one of seven First Nations to receive the first allocations of the vaccine approved for use in Manitoba against COVID-19, a week after it arrived in the province.
“It’s a historic time for us,” Chief Monias says.
Local nurse and Pimicikamak Cree Nation member Brenda Frogge administered the first vaccination, to 70-year-old band councilor Mervin Garrick. Like other remote First Nations in Manitoba, the community of approximately 8,000 members was hit hard with COVID-19 in the second wave and has reported more than 160 cases since October, including about 57 that remain active.
“It was good to see. We’re seeing the light, we’re taking that first step,” Chief Monias told community members in a radio message that was also broadcast on Facebook live.
Manitoba received its first shipment of 7,300 Moderna doses at the beginning of January and reserved 5,300 of them for First Nations.
Local nurses are administering the vaccine to elders and care-home staff in Northern Manitoba, where First Nations have been particularly hard hit. Ontario First Nations have seen 349 active cases and are expected to begin receiving vaccines next month. First Nations leaders and health officials say they’ve encountered some vaccine hesitancy and have geared information campaigns to address concerns, but they expect that the hesitancy will subside with time.
Chief Monias said Pimicikamak Cree Nation received 200 doses, which will go to all elders over 70 and the personal care home staff.
The number of cases among First Nations in Manitoba continue to rise disproportionately, now making up more than 60 per cent of active cases in the province and 40 per cent of new cases, according to recent data from the Manitoba First Nations pandemic team, which is tracking cases. The First Nations pandemic team has tracked over 6,500 COVID-19 cases in First Nations both on and off reserve in the province.
The Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Coordination Response Team said they are negotiating with the province’s task force and federal partners to secure an additional 5,300 doses by the end of the February.