Hours before two dozen shots of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were set to expire, nurses at a First Nations-run site sprung into action.
The nurses, who were working at a pop-up clinic at Assiniboia Downs, arranged to have the shots administered at a West Broadway hair salon on short notice Thursday evening.
"Everyone needs to do their part and get vaccinated, so we can all get back to our normal life," said Denise Bear, acting medical director of Peguis First Nation, north of Winnipeg.
The First Nation set up the clinic for off-reserve members at the racetrack on the outskirts of Winnipeg. So far, the team of 10 nurses has immunized hundreds of people.
When the supply of vaccine exceeds demand, the nurses have opened up the clinic to the public.
"We’re opening it up to everyone who needs a vaccine," said Bear.
Nurses sift through contact lists to call and text First Nations people who are due for their second dose. Officials recommend First Nations people get their second shot earlier than the general population because they have poorer overall health than the general population.
The clinic offered doses to the public this week, including people who drove in from the Interlake.
Pat Pruden, a University of Manitoba nurse who is not Indigenous, is helping at the Assiniboia clinic.
"They’re so organized. It’s fun; everybody’s laughing and sharing stories," Pruden said.
"It’s a testimony to the vision, and the leadership of Peguis and the whole nursing community up there. They’re providing care, and thinking of the overall care of the community."
On Thursday, the nurses had 600 shots to deliver, but some were left over when the clinic closed at 8 p.m. They had 23 thawed doses that were to expire at 11 p.m., so they found an alternative.
Pruden enlisted help from her friend Deborah Seguin, who co-owns Edward Carriere Salon, and got the word out through Facebook.
"It’s really unusual, and we just had to think on our feet," said Pruden.
Seguin said it was an obvious choice after restrictions resulted in the closure of hair salons May 9.
"If it’s done safely and properly, obviously under the direction of a nurse, I think it can be done anywhere," said Seguin.
The Peguis team booked appointments, and set up a one-way walkthrough and waiting area.
"It worked out really well for everyone, and it flowed very quickly," Bear said.
On Friday, her team had 350 doses to administer. Seventy shots were left at 4:30 p.m., and the pace was slower than Thursday. Bear chalked that up to the growing number of vaccination sites.
Peguis is among First Nations bands that have given COVID-19 shots to people outside their bands.
The Cross Lake band offered shots to all teachers in Thompson, while Long Plain officials had difficulty drumming up interest on the reserve and gave doses to residents of nearby Portage la Prairie.
Bear said it makes sense that Indigenous people protect their neighbours and avoid waste.
"We want to make sure we use everything."