WINNIPEG -- A widespread vaccination campaign is set to ramp up for northern Manitoba First Nation communities, according to Dr. Marcia Anderson, public health lead for Manitoba’s First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team.

Planning is underway for vaccination clinics in 63 communities that have been prioritized, based on risks of fire, flooding, loss of winter road access or where access is across a waterway. Anderson noted it is more efficient to reach these communities in one trip, especially for those that are difficult to reach.

“We expect that this next phase of immunizations will begin in mid-March, and that by early to mid-May, all eligible adults living in a First Nations community who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will have received their first dose,” said Anderson in a media briefing on Friday, noting all community members ages 18 and older will receive doses.

Communities determined most at risk will have their vaccination clinics first, because logistical and staffing challenges don’t allow for them all to happen at the same time. This will prevent other emergencies from interfering with the rollout. Communities that have experienced a higher number of deaths or outbreaks would then be prioritized.

Communities may also choose to travel to Vaxport, the Thompson suspersite, for the vaccine. Vaxport would schedule eligible residents to travel by air or motor coach to be immunized and then return home the same day.

Anderson said each community will be contacted directly about the timelines for their vaccine over the next week. She said because the number of vaccines is much higher this time than in phase one, plans are being made to provide community support including the deployment of Focused Immunization Teams (FITs).

“These will be modelled after our rapid response teams and will be a truly collaborative effort. This includes bringing people and providers, from multiple organizations and jurisdictions together, onto these integrated teams,” said Anderson.

Right now, First Nations people 67-years-old or older can call to make their appointments.