Some Portage residents outside of the current vaccine eligibility groups managed to receive a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month.
In order to prevent wasting expiring Moderna vaccines, Long Plain First Nation expanded eligibility at a vaccination clinic being held at its Keeshkeemaquah Urban Reserve last week. The clinic was planned for Long Plain's on-reserve band members who live in Keeshkeemaquah Village who did not have transportation to clinics held on the main reserve. Chief Dennis Meeches says that the goal was to vaccinate at least 80 per cent of the on-reserve population but are nowhere near that lofty figure and that members are apprehensive about receiving the COVID shot. As a result, the decision was made to offer the expiring doses to the many businesses and people that work with Long Plain.
"At Keeshkeemaquah, we had a line up from the Bigfoot Hall all the way out past the gas bar and up the road, so there was a lot of people," says Meeches, who says they even had to turn quite a few people away. "People were probably texting other people and saying, 'Look, Long Plain is opening up their clinic to non-members.'"
Meeches adds that the Province's vaccine task force caught wind of the situation and instructed them to stop allowing any further walk-in clients who did not meet their priority clientele, but those in the lineup at the time were allowed to receive their vaccination.
"It was a judgment call we made," he adds. "Obviously there was some concern expressed by public health and our pandemic team. But yeah, we made that call, and we'll live with it."
Meeches says that the intent was never to open the clinic up to the public in an effort to use up vaccines, but the venue was more public than their on-reserve clinics and through word of mouth, and the excitement of Portage la Prairie residents to be able to access the vaccine, they had a large turnout. In total, 253 vaccinations were administered that day, 163 of which were to individuals outside of the current eligibility groups.
Long Plain is once again hosting vaccine clinics this week, but part of the challenge they face right now is the hesitance of eligible people not wanting to receive the vaccine. With more vaccine supply quickly nearing its expiration date, Meeches says they will again consider offering vaccinations to individuals outside of the eligibility groups before letting them go to waste.
"We still believe we made the right decision," adds Meeches. "And even going forward... we'll make a decision on what to do with vaccines that may be available."
A provincial spokesperson responded with the following statement when Portage Online requested comment on how these actions will affect second dose vaccinations.
“Following recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations, the province recently announced a four-month delay between a first and second dose vaccination. It will be announced when eligible non-First Nation Manitobans will be able to book their second-dose vaccination at a number of locations: supersites, pop-up clinics, medical clinics/pharmacies.”
Written by Brian Oliver