COVID-19 vaccines arrive in remote First Nations as leaders work to fight reluctance

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First Nations have started receiving doses of COVID-19 vaccines as provincial immunization programs are underway, with Indigenous leaders encouraging people to roll up their sleeves.
Six of Vancouver Island’s 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations received priority doses of Moderna vaccine last week, said Mariah Charleson, vice president of the approximately 10,000 Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. members.

The council employs nurses who are among those who administer the vaccines so that people see a familiar face they know and trust, she said.

Health officials need to work with communities to ensure the COVID-19 vaccination program is culturally appropriate, Charleson said, given the impacts of the residential school system and discrimination in health care , as noted in a recent report by former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

“There are many people in our communities that our nurses may never have seen because [they] will never go looking for help, ”Charleson said.

Released in November, the Turpel-Lafond report sheds light on widespread racial profiling based on damaging stereotypes that affect the care of Indigenous patients in British Columbia. Of the more than 2,700 Aboriginal people interviewed for the survey, 84% said they had experienced some form of discrimination in health care.

Leaders facing reluctance to immunize in communities

It’s understandable that many are reluctant to trust Canadian health officials, said Charleson, who encourages people to get vaccinated.

“If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for the elders in the community and the vulnerable,” she said in an interview.

Chief Simon John of Ehattesaht First Nation said he had noticed some hesitation about COVID-19 vaccines among residents of the Ehatis reserve on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

The community of around 100 members was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak that spread to 28 people last month, so when John learned they would be getting Moderna’s vaccine soon, he decided to show The example.

“For us as a Council doing it first was our priority,” he said.

John said he received his first dose last Monday, along with around 30 other residents of Ehatis and 40 people in the nearby village of Zeballos, including elders and gang members living off reserve.

British Columbia has allocated 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to at-risk members of remote First Nations for distribution by the end of February. As of Monday, 10,700 doses of Moderna vaccine were available for First Nations and 5,300 had been distributed in 18 communities.

Indigenous communities among priority groups

As of Friday, Indigenous Services Canada had confirmed nearly 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in First Nations communities across the country, including 3,288 active infections, 452 hospitalizations and 95 deaths.

The Canadian Advisory Committee on Immunization has identified Indigenous communities as priority groups for a limited quantity vaccine.

In Alberta, remote First Nations residents and people 65 years of age or older living in First Nations or Métis communities are among those the province is prioritizing for its third phase of immunization starting in February.

In Saskatchewan, 4,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine have so far been sent to northern areas, where healthcare workers, staff and residents of long-term care homes, as well as those aged 80 and over. more, are the first to be vaccinated, including those who live in First Nations communities.

Initially, “First Nations were not really involved in the allocation of this vaccine,” said Dr Nnamdi Ndubuka, medical officer of the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority.

More recently, communication about vaccine distribution has improved between communities and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, he said.

The province said it expected to receive an additional 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, with the small towns serving as regional distribution centers.

Manitoba, meanwhile, started shipping 5,300 doses of Moderna vaccine last week to reach people from 63 First Nations across the province.

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