Image: Tahltan Nation COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic
An Indigenous physician and grandmother answers your questions
A message from Dr. Shannon McDonald, Acting Chief Medical Officer
People around the world are being vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, including First Nations people in BC. These vaccines will play a major role in preventing illness from COVID-19. That's great news!
The not-so-great news is that some people are considering delaying or not accepting the vaccine when it becomes available. It is normal to have concerns, and healthy to ask questions about any new product. It's always good to ask! However, it's important to separate the misinformation you might find in places like social media from the scientific facts.
In the case of Indigenous people, there is an additional reason for what is called “vaccine hesitancy": historical trauma from forced vaccinations in Indian residential schools and Indian hospitals, as well as ongoing widespread systemic racism in the health care system. (See the In Plain Sight summary report on systemic racism in the BC Health Care system.)
The COVID-19 vaccine has been rigorously tested
It's understandable that people might be nervous. In addition to this being a new disease, the vaccine has been approved relatively quickly. Very consistently, however, the vaccine has been found to be safe and strong, preventing 94 to 95 per cent of infections after two doses. Thirty thousand people were tested with the Moderna vaccine, and 37,796 with the Pfizer vaccine, which are the two approved for use in Canada. More than 10 million people across the world have now received the vaccine, with very few negative reactions.
What's more, the speed with which the COVID-19 vaccine was developed is due to its prioritization for every government and health agency on the planet. As well, this kind of vaccine research has been going on for decades, and vaccines using this technology are already in use to protect people against other viruses like Zika and Rabies.
The COVID-19 vaccine will help save lives
As an Indigenous physician who is passionate about improving the health and wellness of other Indigenous people, I strongly recommend that everyone who is eligible, opt to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they're offered one. I certainly intend to! In fact, physicians who are eligible for it (because they work in hospitals or clinics), have already chosen to take the vaccine themselves. (Read this story from an FNHA First Nations doctor who received his first dose in January.)
When you choose to get vaccinated, you protect not only yourself, but also the people around you. Getting the vaccine is one excellent way we can care for ourselves, our families and loved ones, and our communities. I'm not just a doctor – I'm also a wife, a mother, and grandmother. And I am certainly invested in keeping my family protected. I live in a First Nations community, and I'm extremely interested in keeping my neighbours protected, too!
Sadly, we have already lost Elders, language holders, knowledge keepers, and even some younger people to COVID-19. Once at least 70 per cent or more people in the community receive the vaccine, the chances of the virus being transmitted within the community is far lower. This is called “community immunity."
Obtaining reliable information is the best way to make an informed decision
Getting the vaccine or not is your individual choice, and we want to be sure you have the best information on which to base your decision. There are many reliable sources of information that can help you with making a decision on whether to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including:
The First Nations Health Authority
The BC Centre for Disease Control
The Health Canada website
Virtual or in-person appointment:
Speak with a trusted health care provider such as your community health nurse, family physician, Virtual Doctor of the Day, or pharmacist.