Premier Brian Pallister’s office says the prime minister backs up an assertion that Manitoba will receive extra doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna because of the high proportion of Indigenous people in the province.

A provincial spokesperson says the prime minister’s confirmation came Thursday at the meeting between Canada’s premiers and .

“Prior to that, following repeated queries from the province, federal officials from Health Canada, [Public Health Agency of Canada], and Intergovernmental Affairs confirmed to Manitoba officials on Monday evening we were receiving more than our per capita share,” the province said by email.

On Tuesday, Pallister said he had confirmation from Ottawa that Manitoba will receive 15 per cent more doses of the yet-to-be-approved Moderna vaccine than it was originally scheduled to get under the federal government’s distribution plan.

That plan will see each province receive vaccine doses in numbers proportionate to its share of the population.

Pallister said Manitoba would receive more doses of the Moderna vaccine because the province has a comparatively high Indigenous population, and vaccine priority is given to some at-risk populations — including adults living on Indigenous communities.

But on Wednesday, Ottawa cast doubt on Pallister’s assertion, when a senior health official said no special allowances were made for individual provinces. 

“It’s for certain we’ve had active discussions [with the provinces],” Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said at a technical briefing. 

“People could quibble and say … ‘I think that if I look at the census data, I’ve got more seniors, older people in my province, or maybe I’ve got a greater number of health-care workers.’

“But at the end of the day, I think it all evens out and I think we all agreed that we’re going with a per capita sort of allocation.”

Trudeau confirms Manitoba will get extra vaccine doses for Indigenous population, premier's office …
The office of Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the prime minister backed up his assertion that Manitoba will get more doses of the vaccine. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Pallister, though, held to his position Thursday, adding he fought at the first ministers’ meeting to ensure First Nations people who don’t live on reserve get the same priority vaccine access to those living in Indigenous communities.

“While we succeeded previously in securing additional vaccine allocation for remote and isolated communities in Manitoba, the prime minister did not confirm that this would extend to Manitoba’s very large off-reserve population,” he said by email.

The federal government did not respond Thursday to CBC News’ request for comment.

Backlash over ‘back of the line’ comments

The Moderna vaccine will be sent to isolated First Nations, since it does not need to be stored at temperatures as frigid as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Pallister was accused last week of dividing Manitobans for saying that reserving vaccinations for people on First Nations leaves other Manitobans “at the back of the line.” 

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says the premier is now trying to distract from those remarks by taking credit for an increase in vaccine allotments.

“I checked with some people in the federal government,” he said, who told him any promise of extra vaccine doses “had nothing to do with any provincial negotiation.”

Indigenous leaders, meanwhile, say they’d rather focus on getting vaccines into the arms of their community members.

Trudeau confirms Manitoba will get extra vaccine doses for Indigenous population, premier's office …
Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak is advocating for at risk Indigenous people to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, whether they live on-reserve or off-reserve. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“It’s not so much a political word game for me and our First Nations,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said.  

“It’s a matter of getting the help that is so much needed in our north.”

He said the need for vaccinations extends off reserve as well, an opinion echoed by Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

“COVID is not discriminating. Everybody’s vulnerable to it. And it’s affecting all of our communities — it’s affecting our off-reserve members just as much as it’s affecting our on-reserve members,” he said.

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