As the Director of Pandemic Response for Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin Inc. (KIM), I’ve worked in partnership with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) to support northern First Nations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
KIM has been an active member of the First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team (PRCT), and more recently provided representation at the First Nation Vaccine Implementation Task Force (VITF). Much of my time has been focused on collaborating with fellow First Nation leaders, the provincial and federal governments, and others to plan, prepare and rollout vaccines for First Nations.
With all the impacts of the pandemic on First Nation people in Manitoba, it’s crucial that everyone receives the vaccine as soon as possible. We’ve seen the devastating impacts firsthand in several of our northern communities once the virus gets into a community, which are compounded due to such issues as overcrowded housing, lack of access to clean water, and other already-compromised social determinants of health. Leaders, healthcare experts, and citizens in the First Nations have been working diligently to keep their communities safe — and I applaud their great accomplishments.
Reaching herd immunity through vaccination while maintaining public health measures is our best approach to prevent serious health impacts, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. Vaccine hesitancy remains a serious concern, but I hope through our collaborative efforts with our various partners, that people will access the information they need to make a positive and informed decision about getting vaccinated.
Through my line of work and in my personal life, I know far too many people who’ve contracted the COVID-19 virus, and have seen the devastation it can cause — from long-term side effects, to those in the ICU fighting for their lives — and those who’ve died due to severe complications from the virus. Receiving the vaccine can eliminate these outcomes, and I hope that everyone chooses the path to vaccination.
I had the opportunity to get vaccinated and appreciatively got immunized to remain healthy, to continue with the important work that we do, and as an added line of defence to protect myself and my family. My 19-year-old son was born with complex congenital heart disease which puts him at high risk of the severe outcomes of COVID-19. Choosing to get vaccinated was that extra layer of protection to help decrease the odds of my son becoming dangerously ill. Fortunately, he, too, became eligible for the vaccine via our First Nation’s recent rollout, and thankfully he received his first dose. Despite a little bit of soreness around the injection site and some slight chills for myself, getting the vaccine was an easy experience for us both.
I encourage everyone who is eligible to get their COVID vaccination. It would be great for all Manitobans to reach the herd immunity needed, and reduce the serious impacts of this virus, so we can all return to living normal lives again.