BC First Nations Communities Accepting Vaccines With Open Arms, Rolled-Up Sleeves

2/18/2021

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If the year 2020 felt a bit like a marathon, it's no surprise that people are feeling “covid fatigue," a term that describes the exhaustion of coping with—and trying to avoid—the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the finish line isn't yet in sight, BC residents may be getting a second wind with the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines, which were approved for use in Canada in late December. The Moderna vaccines, in particular, have been rolling out to remote and isolated First Nations communities since the last week of December.

To many First Nations communities, it's a glimmer of hope that things will eventually return to normal.

“The mental wellness of First Nations people right now is low," said Xeni Gwet'in First Nation Chief Jimmy Lulua, one of six Tsilhqot'in communities near Williams Lake.

Despite the threat of COVID-19, Chief Lulua said he and his community has focused on having gratitude for the ability to continue practicing their traditional ways during the lockdown.

Chief Lulua said he and his wife and his parents accepted the vaccine eagerly, although he noted it's a personal decision for each person.

Chief John Allen French of Takla First Nation received his vaccine on Dec. 29, 2020, and said in a video of the community immunization clinic that he hoped others would follow suit.

“If you want to start seeing your Elders and seeing the people that you love and start going back to having our gatherings and being able to get together and start doing all those fun things we do, then this is the only way forward," he said.

Dr. John Pawlovich, medical director of Carrier Sakani Family Services, agrees.

“This is all about protecting yourself, your family, your community and your Nation," he said. “It's been a long time coming. The pandemic is super stressful for everyone and this is part of the journey to healing and to putting this pandemic behind us."

It's important to note that to maximize the effectiveness of these immunization clinics, individuals have to continue to adhere to all of the recommended public health measures, even after vaccination. 

The distribution of vaccines in BC is now in phase two of a four-phase rollout, coordinated between the FNHA and other regional health authorities throughout the province. Phase two began on Feb. 1 and will continue into March, focusing on Indigenous Elders aged 65 and older and additional communities that haven't yet had vaccination clinics.

The good news is that when the vaccines do arrive, word spreads fast, and effectively.

“Thanks to the overwhelming response to the COVID-19 vaccine clinic, we administered all of our 600 doses in two days rather than three!" Cowichan Tribes posted on its Facebook page

Elder Helen Clifton of the Gitga'at First Nation said she got the vaccine to protect her great-grandchildren and grandchildren.

“My family comes first with me," she said in a video poste​d to Facebook, adding she wanted “to be a role model and to take the vaccine because they are so precious. And what's precious to granny should be precious to all the Gatga'ats."

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