'Fighting back:' Manitoba health-care workers get first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

·4 min read

WINNIPEG — A doctor who works in internal medicine became the first person in Manitoba to get the COVID-19 vaccine on the same day the province reported 15 more deaths from the novel coronavirus.

"We are extremely lucky that we live in Canada, in Manitoba, and that people made huge efforts to get us this vaccine," Dr. Brian Penner said Wednesday after being inoculated about 8:30 a.m.

Penner, who works at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre, said he felt extremely fortunate to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, because it will help keep his patients safe. He said he was feeling well after getting the shot.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, said about 900 health-care workers are expected to receive the vaccine by the end of the week. Everyone will require a second dose in about three weeks.

"We've been dealing with this virus for nine months. We are going to have to deal with it for many more months," Roussin told a news conference.

"But today we start fighting back."

Roussin said it was a journey to organize how to get the vaccine from the manufacturer to the dose in Penner's arm.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must remain in the same location to which it is delivered. An ultra-low temperature freezer was installed at the University of Manitoba's Bannatyne campus, where the immunization clinic is set up.

The province is looking to establish similar sites in Brandon, Thompson, Steinbach, Gimli, Portage la Prairie and The Pas in the new year.

Sherry Plett, who works in an intensive care unit and an emergency room in southern Manitoba, was also vaccinated Wednesday.

She said she did a happy dance when she learned she would be among those getting a dose in the first round.

"I need to be healthy so I can be there and look after people in our community."

The government has said it hopes to vaccinate more than 100,000 people by March — roughly seven per cent of the population.

"It's that glimmer of hope we all needed," Roussin said. "But we just can't let that hope blur the critical point we are in right now. We need to maintain our focus during this holiday season."

The province reported 292 new cases of COVID-19. Daily counts have gone down slightly since the government brought in tighter restrictions on public gatherings and businesses in November.

The five-day test positivity rate for the province was 13.6 per cent.

Demands on the health-care system remain high. There were 328 people in hospital, with 46 in intensive care.

Roussin reminded people that only members of the same household are to be together in their home during the holidays.

But a Manitoba First Nation has said it will allow immediate family members to visit the reserve for Christmas. The Peguis First Nation website says all visitors must register and be screened.

"We should never allow someone else to make decisions for us especially involving our families, children and elders, as we’ve learned through our history," Chief Glen Hudson posted on social media this week.

The office of federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he has been in contact with the chief.

"First Nations are leading the response to protect the health and well-being of their communities, and will decide what is best for them, based on their unique local circumstances," press secretary Adrienne Vaupshas said in an email.

Premier Brian Pallister on Tuesday called Miller's approach a "massive mistake."

“We are not going to have two sets of rules around who’s going to have Christmas."

The second wave of COVID-19 has hit First Nations populations in Manitoba particularly hard. There were 1,194 active cases on- and off-reserve on Tuesday, indicated data from Manitoba's First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team.

First Nations make up more than half of those in intensive care with the virus.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief public health officer, said it's not just First Nations that are making tough decisions about holiday visitors.

Many families have post-secondary students who are returning home for the holidays. They also need to take precautions, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2020.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story; a previous version had Dr. Penner as working in intensive care.