by Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – As the initial phase of vaccine distribution across Canada begins, First Nations have started to receive their first doses of the vaccines.
Six of 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island were priority recipients of doses of Moderna’s vaccine last week, said Mariah Charleson, vice-president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council that serves about 10,000 members.
The Government of Canada stated on their website, “Now that 2 COVID-19 vaccines have been approved by Health Canada and are becoming available, at-risk groups will be prioritized to receive the vaccines first as they roll out. This is because there will be a limited supply at the beginning.”
Provinces and Territories are prioritizing health-care workers and people in long-term care facilities in the initial phase of their vaccine roll-outs, however, Indigenous Nations are also considered high-risk, especially those from remote areas because of inequities such as inadequate infrastructure and access to health care.
“Some Indigenous communities or members of those communities will be identified as being at increased risk. They will be among the first groups to receive the vaccines. The vaccines will be free,” said the Federal Government.
While 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been delivered across Canada, this particular vaccine requires extreme refrigeration, thus making it difficult to transport to remote populations.
The Moderna vaccine on the other hand only needs to be stored at -20 C, which is much more plausible for areas with limited resources.
However, due to Canada’s history with Residential schools and discrimination in health care (as outlined in a recent report by former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond), some Nations – like the Nuu-chah-nulth – claim a certain distrust over wide-spread, government-led vaccinations.
Nuu-chah-nulth Vice President Charleson understands Indigenous people’s reluctance to get vaccinated, as the report by Turpel-Lafond found that out of 2,700 Indigenous people surveyed as part of the investigation, 84 per cent reported experienced some form of health-care discrimination.
Charleson is encouraging people to get the vaccinations, “If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for the elders in the community and the vulnerable,” she said in an interview.
Meanwhile, Chief Simon John of the Ehattesaht First Nation in BC also recognized his people’s distrust and reluctance to take Moderna. Out of the 100 people who live on the Nation, 28 people were infected with the virus.
“For us, as council, to take it first was our priority,” he said.
Indigenous Services Canada had confirmed nearly 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in First Nations communities across the country as of Friday, including 3,288 active infections, 452 hospitalizations and 95 deaths.
BC has allocated 25,000 doses of Moderna and is expected to issue the immunizations in February. 10,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine were available to First Nations last Monday, and 5,300 have been distributed to 18 communities.
In Alberta, residents of remote First Nations and people age 65 or older living in any First Nation or Métis community are among those the province is prioritizing in its third phase of immunization starting in February. Some health care workers have already started to receive vaccinations in select First Nations in Alberta, including Siksika Nation and the Blood Tribe.
In Saskatchewan, 4,900 doses of Moderna’s vaccine have so far been sent to northern regions, where health-care workers, staff and residents of long-term care homes, along with people age 80 or older, are first in line to be immunized, including those living in First Nation communities.
Jake Cardinal is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Native News.