First Nations people living on Manitoba reserves now qualify for a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as a higher proportion of young people ineligible for shots is driving outbreaks that are infecting fully vaccinated residents.

Winnipeg Free Press

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First Nations people living on Manitoba reserves now qualify for a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as a higher proportion of young people ineligible for shots is driving outbreaks that are infecting fully vaccinated residents.

"We have seen, throughout this pandemic, that First Nations people are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The fourth wave is no different," said Dr. Marcia Anderson, public health lead with the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team.

The new criterion applies only to people who got their second shot at least six months ago, a number Anderson said is currently about 7,200. Most of them will receive Moderna, she told reporters at a Monday news conference.

Anderson provided examples of three communities with good vaccine uptake that are dealing with outbreaks that include multiple breakthrough cases of fully vaccinated people. One of the affected communities involved in people vaccinated in April or earlier.

First Nations make up approximately one-tenth of Manitoba's population, but account for 39 per cent of new COVID-19 cases, as of last Friday. Along with rising hospitalization numbers, reserves now have a test-positivity rate of 10 per cent, which is three times what is generally considered to be a controlled spread.

Anderson said breakthrough cases among First Nations people living on reserve have increased since August. It’s unclear how much of the problem stems from waning immunity, and how much is due to environmental factors such as overcrowded homes and poor health as a result of limited access to healthy food, for example.

"The combination of, potentially, time since vaccination, as well as higher viral load because of these factors, is I think what we are seeing here," she said.

Anderson noted that only people born before Dec. 31, 2009 qualify for COVID-19 shots, and that First Nations are disproportionately younger than the overall Manitoba population, meaning there are more unvaccinated people in those settings, often interacting in overcrowded homes and schools.

A team of federal and provincial bureaucrats and First Nations officials is now being re-activated on reserves to roll out third doses and determine which residents still need their second and initial doses.

Meanwhile, the province today opened its call centre and booking system for Manitobans to schedule flu-shot appointments. The online vaccine finder now shows where COVID-19 and influenza shots are available.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca