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The federal NDP says it’s hearing from Indigenous leaders who want to see immediate action on distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, who held a joint news conference on Monday with her colleague Don Davies, said Ottawa needs to ensure that Indigenous communities, which are of federal responsibility, receive the vaccine on a priority basis.

There is considerable concern about the effect of the coronavirus in Indigenous communities during the second wave of the pandemic because of factors including their far distance from medical services and the prevalence of underlying medical conditions. Some communities, such as Shamattawa First Nation and Red Sucker First Nation in Manitoba, have been receiving assistance from the military amid fear about the potentially catastrophic effects of widespread outbreaks.

Anxiety levels in Shamattawa and Red Sucker have also been very high because there is worry about how the virus could affect elders and how it could spread like wild fire through overcrowded houses.

“We need to see a plan now,” Ms. Ashton said Monday.

“We need to ensure there is no patchwork approach to delivering the vaccine to Indigenous communities – a patchwork approach of health care that has meant, in many instances, that Indigenous communities and peoples have fallen through the cracks. We cannot afford to see this at this time.”

Questions remain about how and when vaccines will be rolled out to Indigenous communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference last week that the Moderna vaccine, expected to be approved soon by Health Canada, will be directed to the North as well as remote and Indigenous communities.

Tom Wong, Indigenous Services Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Public Health, said at a briefing in Ottawa last week that a federal-provincial-Indigenous working group has been created at the national level. He also said the department is working closely with the provinces, territories and Indigenous leaders on the rollout plan.

Evan Adams, Indigenous Services’ deputy chief medical officer, added there would be collaboration ideally with First Nations, Métis, Inuit and provincial governments on the vaccine rollout. He said it is the federal government’s expectation that an agreement will be reached on an approach that ensures people are protected.

“I would hate to consider the worst-case scenario where people don’t get along,” Dr. Adams said.

Ms. Ashton said Monday, however, that there is concern among Indigenous leaders in Manitoba following remarks made by Premier Brian Pallister about the allocation of vaccines in the province.

Mr. Pallister said this month there was higher rate of infection among Indigenous Manitobans while he said Ottawa’s approach was going to hurt his province. He said the plan would result in Manitobans who do not live in northern Indigenous communities being the least likely to get the vaccine in the country.

“The federal government is telling us they are going to distribute the vaccine on a per-capita basis,” he said.

“They are also telling us that they are going to hold back the portion of our vaccines for Manitoba that they would then allocate to Indigenous and First Nations communities. What that would mean then is that Manitobans who do not live in northern Indigenous communities would be the least likely to get the vaccine in the country.”

Ms. Ashton said she’s heard from Indigenous leaders who are very concerned about the role of the province in the distribution of vaccines after the Premier’s remarks, adding the leaders have made it clear they are waiting for the federal government to take the lead.

“They are calling for the federal government to take the lead,” Ms. Ashton said. “We cannot leave the responsibility to them [the province]. In regions like this and provinces like ours, there is no question, we need to see the federal government take the lead.”

Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, said in a statement that the provinces and territories will receive an allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine they are responsible for allocating to those in their jurisdiction including First Nations, both on and off reserve, Inuit and Métis.

”This is in line with the process for routine vaccinations,” she said.

”Indigenous Services Canada, other federal departments, and Indigenous partners are working with provinces and territories to support the inclusion of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people in their vaccine planning and allocations.”

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