Remote First Nations communities among first in B.C. to get Moderna vaccine
Relief for residents of isolated communities, where 10,700 doses are being made available
Residents of 18 remote First Nations communities in B.C. are among the first people in the province to get the Moderna vaccine this week.
While some are feeling nervous, many are thrilled to have first access to the defence against COVID-19.
"It is a little bit surreal," said Don Speck, a member of the Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay who is getting his vaccine this week.
Last spring, Speck's community faced an outbreak where more than 30 people tested positive and two people died.
"A lot of the elders were scared to leave their homes, [for] basically six to eight months, and so now there's just this overwhelming relief," he said.
WATCH | 95-year-old elder, the first person to be vaccinated in Gitga'at First Nation, describes the importance of the vaccine:
Thousands of doses received this week
This week, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that 10,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine are being made available for isolated and remote First Nations communities in the province.
They are considered priority populations as many communities have limited hospital space and some individuals are deemed to be at higher risk of having severe health impacts from COVID-19.
Henry said to date, more than 5,300 Moderna doses have been distributed to 18 rural and remote First Nations.
One of the communities receiving the vaccine this week is Ahousat, a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island only accessible by boat or plane.
"I was emotional in a good way and my heart became very, very full," said elected Chief Greg Louie who was the first person in the community to be vaccinated.
His community held a ceremony for the nurses who carried in and administered vaccines in the small community of about 1,000 people.
Ahousat has been in lockdown since November because of fears of the virus spreading to the First Nation.
"Within the span of about three weeks, we had 18 cases of COVID in our community," he said.
While there were no deaths, at least one that contracted the virus was in and out of hospital several times.
"Here's an opportunity for our people to pull together to have a good defence against COVID," Louie said.
WATCH | Takla Nation Chief John French receives his first vaccine dose and appeals to others in the nation to get theirs:
'Protecting our elders'
Another Indigenous community that will be among the first to receive the vaccine is the Huu-ay-aht First Nations based on Pachena Bay, about 300 km northwest of Victoria.
"I am actually pretty excited to be one of the first people in Canada to get the injection," said Hazel Cook, who is a Huu-ay-aht First Nations citizen living in Alert Bay.
Her community didn't face an outbreak, but some members tested positive for the virus. One citizen living out of the community died.
"We have a lot of struggles in all of our communities, with people passing away that are knowledge keepers," she said.
"So it is really nice knowing that [health authorities] are taking into consideration that we are losing our culture, and knowing that this will help keep it alive."
Helen Clifton, a 95-year-old Gitga'a elder, got the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in her community.
Clifton says she has been alive for five generations and has witnessed how effective vaccines can be against illnesses like polio and chicken pox.
"I have to be a role model," she said, speaking from Hartley Bay, an isolated village about 145 kilometres south of Prince Rupert.
She points to her grandchildren as the reason she wants to get the vaccine.
"They're all so precious," she said.
Between December and February approximately 25,000 people from remote or isolated First Nations communities in B.C. will be vaccinated.
Tap the link below to hear CBC's Angela Sterritt speak with elders about receiving the Moderna vaccine: