Manitoba Must Shift Vaccine Strategy to Ensure BIPOC People Protected: Dr. Anderson

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New information indicates basing vaccination on age rather than other risk factors likely contributed to more critical COVID-19 outcomes among people of color. Dr. Marcia Anderson says that means public health officials must shift their strategy going forward.

The public health head of the Manitoba First Nation Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team, Dr. Marcia Anderson, revealed new race-based statistics at Monday’s COVID-19 press conference together with the chief provincial health officer. Anderson made several recommendations for future immunization campaigns.

She stated public health leads made a significant error when organizing the vaccine rollout. Anderson said,

“We were assuming that a 60-year-old African or South Asian person had the same risk as a 60-year-old white person.”

Statistics proposed that certain ethnic groups had a higher chance of contracting the virus compared to white Manitobans. This is due to lower income levels, jobs with more contact with the public and a higher rate of overcrowded housing.

According to Anderson’s presentation, Southeast Asian Manitobans, for example — inclusive of ethnic Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, and Thai people — manifested COVID-19 case rates 21.7 times than those of white Manitobans between March 31 and June 7.

African Manitobans showed infection rates 8.7 times higher compared to white Manitobans.

Anderson noted,

“When data on people admitted to ICU only was considered, the admission rate was over four times higher for BIPOC peoples than it was for white people, and the average age was 10 years younger.”

Nonetheless, due to the age-based rollout, younger people of colour — who had similar health outcomes as white people older than them by over 10 years — had to wait weeks longer to access the vaccine.

Dr. Brent Roussin noted the vaccine task force made changes to the vaccine rollout based on evidence coming in; however, there were some obstacles along the way.

He said,

“One of the most dramatic risk factors was age and that’s how things were rolled out at first. As we saw more and more risk factors and we got more and more vaccine in, we were able to do some more of those targeted interventions.”

Anderson claims the vaccination campaign for these pandemic times and in the future should focus on regions where coverage is the lowest, with more community collaborations.

However, that is also inclusive of addressing some recurrent social matters that contribute to poor health results.

Anderson stated,

“Vaccination alone is not sufficient to address gaps in health that are rooted in structural causes, including employment or housing-related issues.”

Expect a plan, critic says

Wab Kinew, Manitoba NDP leader says not tackling these issues “impacts all of us.”

“Until we do that, we’re not going to have as healthy and as prosperous a society as we could achieve,” he declared at a press conference on Monday afternoon.

Uzoma Asagwara, a health critic and Union Station MLA claims the premier and the minister of health should come up with a plan as soon as possible to tackle the inequities and social determinants of health highlighted in Anderson’s presentation.

Asagwara said,

“Tomorrow all Manitobans should be eagerly expecting a plan from the premier and the minister of health because they’ve had this information for an adequate, a substantial amount of time in order to make sure that one is in place.”

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