More Manitoba neighbourhoods eligible for vaccine priority; some areas seem hesitant

·3 min read

WINNIPEG — Manitoba expanded its COVID-19 vaccination program into more neighbourhoods deemed to be at high risk of transmission Wednesday and revealed plans to reach out to some rural residents who appear hesitant to get a dose.

Anyone 18 or older living in downtown Brandon, as well as the Point Douglas North and Downtown West areas of Winnipeg, can now book an appointment. Adults who don't live in those areas but who work there in certain jobs that involve the public — such as teachers and grocery store employees — can book as well.

Similar measures were recently adopted in other areas of central Winnipeg as well as the province's north, while the minimum age for vaccinations elsewhere remains at 30 and up for First Nations people and 40 and up for others.

"We are choosing these communities based on an analysis of COVID-19 case rates, population density, the percentages of racialized populations, the income and amount of suitable housing in the areas," said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine effort.

The province is also opening up two more vaccination super-sites as more doses arrive from international suppliers. One will open May 10 in Dauphin and another May 18 in Steinbach.

Reimer noted Manitobans have generally been eager to get vaccinated, but there are some areas where uptake has been far below the provincial average. Even with limited eligibility and supplies, 34 per cent of Manitoba adults have received at least one dose so far.

The Stanley, Winkler and Hanover health districts in southern Manitoba have seen adult vaccination rates so far of between six and 15 per cent, according to provincial data released Wednesday.

The districts sit in the province's so-called Bible Belt, but Reimer said there was no data directly linking religion to vaccine hesitancy. Some adjacent districts in the same region are not on the province's list of low vaccination rates.

Stanley and Winkler are very close to one of the province's vaccination super-sites in Morden.

"With Stanley actually being right around Morden and then Winkler being about a 15-minute drive, (the hesitancy) does appear more to be concerns around the vaccine as opposed to anything around inability to access the site," Reimer said.

The districts have historically also had low uptake on seasonal flu shots and childhood vaccinations, she added.

The government plans to reach out to community and religious leaders in the area to help encourage people to get vaccinated.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said getting local leaders onside is key.

"We have to get those people to help carry the message forward because ... just the way people's minds work, in some instances they're going to put credence in a person that they already know and trust even more so than (in) an elected official or a public health official," Kinew said.

Health officials reported 189 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and three deaths. The percentage of people testing positive, over a five-day average, remained high at 7.5 per cent provincially and 8.4 per cent in Winnipeg.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2021

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press