The Manitoba government is expanding Indigenous-run COVID-19 vaccine clinics in cities, paving the way for more health services run by those groups.

Winnipeg Free Press

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The Manitoba government is expanding Indigenous-run COVID-19 vaccine clinics in cities, paving the way for more health services run by those groups.

"The partnerships we've established, and the services that we can deliver, are better when we can deliver them together," Premier Kelvin Goertzen said Friday, during an announcement at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg.

The province plans to spend just under $2.8 million across Manitoba, the bulk of which will extend Winnipeg vaccine clinics run by Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre and Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, until the end of 2021.

Those groups are planning a mobile clinic that will try to inch up the Point Douglas neighbourhood current first-dose vaccination rate of 77 per cent to match the rest of the city, with most areas sitting 10 points higher.

The idea is to offer culturally appropriate care off of First Nations reserves, and also serve Métis and Inuit living in cities.

On reserves, similar programs in Manitoba have had a widespread COVID-19 vaccine uptake, particularly compared with the province’s own rollout of H1N1 swine flu shots a decade ago, and the current Indigenous uptake of COVID-19 shots in places such as Saskatchewan.

"This is a remarkable success of First Nation leadership and First Nations health," said Dr. Marcia Anderson, an Indigenous doctor who oversaw the pandemic response team.

Manitoba could go even further in improving health outcomes by including Indigenous leaders and revisiting old policies and top-down governance models, she said.

Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Alan Lagimodiere agreed, commending the work currently being done by Winnipeg groups, such as Dr. Barry Lavallee getting the most vulnerable in Winnipeg vaccinated against COVID-19.

Provincial, municipal and Indigenous dignitaries pose for a group photo after an announcement on urban Indigenous COVID-19 vaccine clinics at Thunderbird House on Friday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Provincial, municipal and Indigenous dignitaries pose for a group photo after an announcement on urban Indigenous COVID-19 vaccine clinics at Thunderbird House on Friday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"You're actually going into these encampments, to try and encourage people to get vaccinated, and get people into the centres that provide culturally important supports they need, to ensure this is the right thing to do," Lagimodiere said.

The groups plan to help not only get people vaccinated, but supply them the proof-of-immunization cards Manitobans need to access certain services.

Cross Lake First Nation Chief David Monias urged people living in cities to roll up their sleeves to protect their neighbours.

His community, also known as Pimicikamak, has the highest vaccination rate in all of Manitoba, and said the novel coronavirus has preyed on unvaccinated people and the most vulnerable, including those with weak immune systems.

"A few months ago, I said that COVID does not discriminate. I'm here to tell you I’ve learned a lot from society — it does discriminate," said Monias, speaking as vice-chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

The funding announced Friday will also support clinics in Portage la Prairie, Thompson and Brandon.

Some of the funding will help Ongomiizwin Health Services, run by the University of Manitoba, to co-ordinate these clinics with provincial and Indigenous leaders.

"Your leadership and partnership has been a cornerstone of success, and has truly kept your people and your communities safe," said Health Minister Audrey Gordon.

She said the Manitoba Metis Federation was invited to Friday's event, and could not speak to why no one from the federation attended. For months, the governing PCs and the MMF have accused each other of not being in touch to prevent COVID-19 and roll out vaccines.

On Friday, Métis leadership was investigating metals in lakes near Flin Flon relied on by Métis communities.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca