Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

First Nations lining up for shots

24,000 have received H1N1 vaccination in last week, grand chief says

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WHILE vaccinations were tem­porarily halted in Winnipeg, Manitoba First Nations resi­dents are still lining up for the shot.

Grand Chief Ron Evans said nearly 24,000 of the 84,000 who live on Mani­toba reserves received the H1N1 vac­cine in the last week. Evans said re­mote communities still have adequate supply, and will continue to offer the shot at nursing stations.

Remote Manitoba First Nations were caught off guard by the spread of se­vere H1N1 influenza last spring, and dozens of sick patients were flown to Winnipeg and put on ventilators in in­tensive care units. The outbreak con­firmed the worst fears of First Nation leaders who warned impoverished ab­original reserves are ill-equipped to deal with widespread infections.

Evans said people are lining up to protect themselves this time around, and hopes that more First Nations will get the vaccine in the coming weeks. He suspects the recent death of 13-year­old Evan Frustaglio in Ontario has also encouraged people to get the vaccine.

"We're over a quarter of the way," Evans said. "Given that we've just started I think that's pretty good."

St. Theresa Point took drastic meas­ures to ensure people at risk of falling severely ill with H1N1 got the shot.

Chief David McDougall said the remote community cancelled school classes for four days last week, so chil­dren and their parents could receive the H1N1 shot together at the nursing station. The idea worked, and McDoug­all said 2,000 of the reserve's 3,500 were vaccinated in the last week. The first cluster of severe H1N1 cases surfaced in the isolated fly-in commun­­ity, located 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. During the peak of the first wave, between 300 and 400 people were sick, and close to 40 people with symp­toms of severe respiratory illness were flown to Winnipeg, McDougall said.

One of McDougall's nieces died in hospital, and 22 others had confirmed cases of H1N1.

"After having experienced what we went through last spring we're taking it very seriously," he said. "We know what the disease can do."

At this point in the flu season, Mc- Dougall said there are no confirmed cases of H1N1.

"So far we've had a couple of alarm bells (with) people (thinking) they had H1N1."

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

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