For Kyle Penner, the effort to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 in his community is personal.
The associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, Man., has seen the devastating effect the illness caused by the novel coronavirus has had on those around him.
“We all know people who died from COVID here,” said Penner.
“I have friends who work in the hospital and they were intubating more people in one shift than they had in their entire life. I have friends who have children who are immunocompromised, and for them it’s been a long year and a half of staying at home, trying to protect their children.”
That’s why as the province braces for a fourth wave of infections, Penner is encouraged to see a slow rise in the number of people in the southeastern Manitoba area getting their first vaccine shot.
“For people to get their first doses now, it’s a big step for them,” said Penner. “They’ve obviously had some concerns … so for them to step up and get the dose to protect themselves and protect our hospitals, protect our community, protect our kids, I have nothing but gratitude for them.”
The Steinbach health district is one of the areas in the province that has so far seen lower vaccine uptake.
But in an email Thursday, a provincial spokesperson said three additional days have been added for appointments and walk-ins at Steinbach’s vaccination supersite in September “in direct response to positive uptake in the Steinbach area.”
With the addition of Sept. 13, 20 and 27, the Steinbach site will open for a total of nine days from Sept. 12 to 30, the province says.
As of Thursday, just over 83 per cent of eligible Manitobans had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the Steinbach health district, located in the Southern Health region, that number has gone from 59.8 per cent roughly a month ago to 62.5 per cent as of Thursday.
Penner, a member of the province’s ProtectMB advisory committee, has been working to encourage people to get immunized.
To better understand what’s happening in his community, he’s been tracking daily vaccination rates in Steinbach.
He said he’s noticed an uptick in the rate in recent weeks, which he thinks is linked to the Manitoba government announcing vaccination or regular testing requirements for certain provincial employees, and proof of vaccination requirements for some non-essential businesses, activities and events.
“That seems to have moved the needle a little bit for people,” said Penner.
A provincial spokesperson said while people aren’t asked why they’re booking an appointment to get the vaccine, the province has noticed “a consistent uptake of appointments following announcements” such as the lottery open to all vaccinated people in the province and changes to public health orders.
“A significant amount of work is being done in southern Manitoba by both religious and community leaders to dispel myths about vaccinations,” the province’s statement said, reiterating the importance of getting vaccinated.
In a written statement, Manitoba Premier Kelvin Goertzen — who is also the MLA for Steinbach — said he’s glad to see more residents of his home community getting a COVID-19 vaccine shot.
“It is the best way for us to not only keep ourselves and our families safe, but to keep our businesses, places of worship and schools open while ensuring our health-care system can keep providing the services people need,” Goertzen said.
Penner said misinformation and a mistrust of government are among the reasons some are vaccine hesitant. He urged people who have questions about getting the vaccine to speak with their family doctor.
“The doctors here in Steinbach have written an open letter, and 52 of them are all advocating vaccines,” he said.
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