5,300 Moderna vaccine doses heading to First Nations communities, starting this week, province says

Thousands of doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be shipped to First Nations communities around Manitoba, starting as soon as this week, the provincial government announced Thursday.

The province expects a shipment of 7,300 Moderna vaccine doses to arrive this week, 5,300 of which will be immediately available to First Nations.

Over the last couple of weeks, a team of First Nations health experts has collaborated with the provincial vaccine implementation task force to identify priority communities and populations to receive the first doses.

“We are pleased at the partnership and spirit of collaboration that has developed and will continue as the delicate decisions around the deployment of this vaccine are made,” Dr. Barry Lavallee, health lead for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakinak and CEO of Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, said in a news release.

Although the province launched its vaccination program on Dec. 16 with the arrival of the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the storage requirements for it meant that remote and northern communities had to wait for the Moderna vaccine, which can be transported more easily.

The provincial government says it has committed to making planes available to take the vaccine to priority locations. 

In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Lavallee said Manitoba could alleviate pressure on the province’s health system by prioritizing Indigenous people, which make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions.

He also said it was the work of First Nations health scholars, as well as pressure from First Nations leaders that convinced the provincial government to invite Indigneous experts to the table. 

The province says it is prioritizing health care workers and elder care facilities in First Nations communities, as well as offering joint training for First Nations immunization teams, access to its best practices and guiding documents, and collaborating on an immunization promotional campaign.

A dedicated vaccination site will also open in Thompson to serve northern and remote communities, including First Nations. This will allow the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be shipped north, along with the Moderna vaccine.

By the end of March, Manitoba is set to receive a per-capita allotment of 228,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, as well as an extra 9,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine dedicated to First Nations.

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