How London's vaccine plan includes Indigenous clients

London's COVID-19 vaccination plan will include partnerships to ensure the unique health needs of the area's Indigenous population aren't overlooked. 

Unique health needs of the area's Indigenous population won't be overlooked

Some space will be set aside at the Western Fair Agriplex vaccination centre for clients who identify as Indigenous. (Andrew Lupton/CBC News)

London's COVID-19 vaccination plan will include partnerships and special services to ensure the unique health needs of the area's Indigenous population aren't overlooked. 

The Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) vaccination plan released last week calls for 3,000 people to be inoculated every day in the months to come. Hitting that target will require a massive effort to upscale staffing and add three new vaccination sites to the one that opened before Christmas at the Western Fair Agriplex. 

The 38-page plan released by the health unit includes language that promises steps to develop an urban vaccination strategy for Indigenous people through a partnership with the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Center (SOAHAC), which provides and coordinates health care services for Indigenous people. 

Vaccinations will happen at the Agriplex combined with outreach efforts to eventually expand vaccination to congregate settings for Indigenous people and through the use of home visits where necessary. 

SOAHAC staff, including at least one nurse, will work in a special space at the Agriplex set aside for clients who identify as Indigenous.   

David Remy is SOAHAC's director of client care and said these steps are crucial to making sure the vaccination centres are safe, welcoming spaces for Indigenous people in the face of a deadly pandemic. 

"It's care that respects the traditions of Indigenous people," he said. "We're going to have one of our Indigenous nurses that work for SOAHAC, or one of the nurses that have had Indigenous training, work in that space to manage the care for Indigenous people." 

Remy said traditional healers will also be available at the Agriplex vaccination centre.

Remy pointed to a 2016 survey his organization conducted, which found that one in four people surveyed felt they'd been treated unfairly while trying to access health care due to their Indigenous identity.

"It's not a great history of relations between Indigenous people and the health care system," he said. Underlying all this is research that points to increased COVID-19 vulnerability for Indigenous people and people of colour.

The federal government has prioritized the vaccination of Indigenous groups, including those in remote communities. The MLHU plan echoes this, with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people included in the first priority phase for COVID-19 vaccinations, along with seniors in long-term care and congregate living, people who work in places where seniors live and health care workers. 

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said last week he doesn't want the vaccination priority for Indigenous people to fade in the face of political pressure from other groups.

"This is not a political game. It's about science, it's about facts, it's about health care," said Miller. "We have the numbers, the casualties. Indigenous peoples are 3.5 to five times more vulnerable to COVID; we see it with the CDC numbers in the states," Miller said, referencing figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that show some Native American communities have been ravaged by the novel coronavirus.

Miller encouraged provinces not to shift this priority, despite political pressure and a shortage of vaccine that has forced the temporary shutdown of vaccination programs — including London's — due to a shortage of supply. 

For now, everyone is waiting for the vaccine supply to return. Remy said SOAHAC is using this time to prepare through hiring and planning. 

"We're putting it together, and we're going to be ready when that product comes in," he said.