Manitoba approves COVID-19 booster vaccines to First Nations people living on reserve
Manitoba public health officials are now recommending a third COVID-19 shot for First Nations people living on reserve.
Officials said the dose should only be given at least six months after a person’s last vaccine.
Dr. Marcia Anderson, the public health lead for First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team, said the risk of a severe outcome for fully vaccinated individuals is much lower than for those who are not, but noted some severe outcomes have been observed in individuals who received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Due to context within First Nations communities, it’s essential that we decrease transmission as well as preserve our local health care capacity,” said Anderson.
As of October 15, 36 new cases of COVID-19 were reported among First Nations, which represents 39 per cent of all cases in the province. Of those cases, 31 were on reserve.
Anderson said First Nations are also seeing rising hospitalization rates, with 28 people in hospital on Friday, with five patients in the ICU.
Test positivity rates on reserve are the highest in the province at 10 per cent. While the majority of positive COVID-19 cases have been identified in the north, Anderson said 17 different First Nation communities have active cases.
Anderson said the number of breakthrough infections has been increasing since August, but said it’s unclear if this is due to waning immunity or to other factors like overcrowded housing that can contribute to increased transmission rates.
About two thirds of those breakthrough infections are happening on reserve
“The combination of time since vaccination, plus viral load because of these factors is what I think we are seeing here,” said Anderson.
The Integrated Vaccine Operations Centre will oversee the third dose rollout and co-ordinate other supports that communities may need. Third doses are expected to be available in all 63 communities to those eligible within the month.
Due to the initial First Nation vaccine rollout, the booster shot will first be given to elders, people age 60-years-old and older in remote First Nation communities, 70-year-old and up in non-isolated areas and to health-care workers.
The vaccine given will be predominately Moderna, to match previously given vaccines.
Anderson said work is currently underway to identify those eligible for the booster as well as identifying any individuals who have yet to be fully vaccinated.
Public health officials estimate this will affect about 7,200 individuals.
“I’m hopeful that this boost to the immune system of people who are fully vaccinated to decrease transmission in the communities and dampen the impacts of the fourth wave overall,” said Anderson.
A timeline for booster shots for off reserve First Nations people was not given.
The expansion comes as Norway House Cree Nation is asking for help to manage an outbreak.
Chief Larson Anderson said cases are rising daily in the community – hitting 234 total cases on Saturday.
He said the community located about 800 km north of Winnipeg needs a team to come in and help with contact tracing and testing.
"We are doing everything we can to contain these positive cases," Larson said in a statement.
"Our teams are exhausted and burnt out."
As for other higher-risk BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) groups, Anderson said due to the vaccine rollout, there would not be very many individuals who had passed the six-month mark from their second dose.
Overall, almost 200,000 vaccine doses have been administered to approximately 105,000 First Nation people.