Manitoba community groups, businesses, churches, schools and cultural organizations can apply for up to $20,000 in provincial money to promote COVID-19 vaccination to people ambivalent about the jab.
"We need Manitobans to continue to do two things: get a vaccine as soon as possible and follow the public health orders. The quicker we do these two things, the faster we beat COVID, and the sooner we can safely reopen our economy," Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday morning.
"We have to get past the 70 per cent vaccination mark. We have to get to 75, and then to 80, then to 85 and higher. And that work is going to happen, and it's going to happen 10 or 50 or 100 vaccines at a time," Pallister said.
"But those numbers are achievable and necessary so we can get our freedoms back."
The ProtectMB Community Outreach and Incentive Grants will provide up to $20,000 to community service providers, sports associations, religious groups, cultural organizations, education and arts organizations, and businesses to implement programs that promote immunization.
The funds must be used to undertake activities that advance vaccination in their targeted community, the provincial government said.
The province said a total of $1 million is available to support the incentive program, and grants will be prioritized in communities and regions where vaccine uptake is lower.
Organizations can propose initiatives as simple as engaging in outreach activities and providing communications materials tailored to select communities.
The province is also soliciting proposals that could involve offering incentives to people to get immunized, such as free meals or tickets to events, as well as hosting pop-up immunization clinics.
The province said it is prepared to entertain any proposals from community groups that could demonstrably increase immunization rates.
Pallister was asked why the community outreach program announced Thursday did not happen concurrently with the vaccine rollout, which began nearly six months ago.
Pallister said it was a fair point but up until this month, the province did not have a shortage of people wanting to be vaccinated.
"We are going to. We want to encourage more people to come and we’re striking while the iron is hot. You don’t advertise for the sale of a product six months before you need to sell it," Pallister said.
In order to measure the performance of the community organizations that receive grants, the groups must demonstrate they carried out their proposal.
Whether or not the programs are successful will be based on vaccine uptake and conversations in those areas, and the province expects multiple initiatives could be required to lift immunization rates.
The final approval authority for issuing the grants is with the Department of Families.
A series of information sessions will begin this week and intake for the program will follow shortly after. The province expects the outreach and incentive programs will begin this month and be completed by the end of September.
The province considered other vaccine incentive programs — including financial incentives for people who choose to be immunized — but favoured targeted, small-scale programs to motivate people to get inoculated.
Research shows financial incentives are not a strong driver of uptake unless they are high value, a government representative said during a media briefing Thursday. They must also include people who got vaccinated without first being offered a financial incentive.
However, Pallister said another announcement related to vaccination incentives is coming next week, which could include offering incentives directly to individuals.
Research commissioned by the provincial government on vaccine intention of Manitobans has shown that only 3.6 per cent of Manitobans are opposed to immunization, regardless of the type of vaccine.
About 9.4 per cent of Manitobans are hesitant when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine and are not in a rush to be immunized, and the reasons for hesitancy are multiple.
Public opinion research commissioned by the government also shows about 87 per cent of Manitobans say they will, or have already, signed up for COVID-19 vaccination.
However, that high level of intention has not yet turned into all those same folks signing up to be vaccinated.
In response, the province will also launch its Take a Seat campaign, part of the overall ProtectMB vaccination drive, which will be focused on highlighting the opportunities that Manitobans will have if collectively immunization rates increase.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.