London

London vaccination program offers Indigenous services to make experience more comfortable for community

A new COVID-19 vaccination site dedicated to providing access to the London area's Indigenous populations is now up and running with accommodating services offered to help patients feel safe.

Patients feel at ease after seeing access to traditional medicines on site, nurse says

Kiona Greene (left) and Laura Mennen (right), are two nurses administering the COVID-19 vaccine to the London area's indigenous populations. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC)

A new COVID-19 vaccination site dedicated to providing access to the London area's Indigenous populations is now up and running with accommodating services offered to help patients feel safe.

The site, located at the Western Fair Agriplex, vaccinated 259 people last week when it first opened with a sacred tobacco ceremony. A total of approximately 54,000 people have received inoculations across the region. 

First Nations, Metis and Inuit adults are a priority group in the province's vaccine strategy and are eligible to book their COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

The new initiative is run by Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Network (SOAHAC) in partnership with the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) who is responsible for overseeing the full scope of vaccination operations at the Agriplex.

Laura Mennen, one of two nurses administering the vaccine at the Agriplex, said when patients come in feeling a little hesitant, they immediately feel at ease after seeing the area set up to accommodate them.

"Our Indigenous patients are saying that they feel comfortable and acknowledged because of the space provided, including access to traditional medicines and the option to speak with a traditional healer after their vaccinations," said Mennen. 

"We are hearing that clinic attendees are now sharing this positive experience with their family and friends, and helping to create awareness and overcome some existing hesitancy." 

The new COVID-19 vaccination site, located at the Western Fair Agriplex, has inocculated more than 259 Indigenous people since it first opened March 8. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC)

Brian Dokis, the CEO of SOAHAC, said the program acknowledges the need to vaccinate the region's Indigenous population and the barriers they may face when accessing them.

"We know that Indigenous peoples may have greater hesitancy about vaccines, given our history with the health-care system. This collaboration is key to allowing us to reach more of the Indigenous population more quickly and will help improve some health outcomes for the communities we serve," Dokis said in a news release.

"The populations experience chronic health conditions at a rate that is between two and 10 times higher than the general population, which has been linked to disproportionate levels of poverty, adverse living conditions and racism, and are therefore more likely to be adversely affected by COVID-19," he added.

Kiona Greene, a nurse from Oneida Nation of the Thames, said her family was comfortable and felt safe getting their vaccine.

"It's safe for them, it's a familiar face," she said.

LHSC and SOAHAC note that culturally-aware care entails the "intentional and respectful awareness about differences between cultures and acknowledges these differences in the provision of health care."

"It also recognizes that because of systemic racism and prejudice within the health-care system, there is a lack of trust by Indigenous people in the system, which may contribute to hesitancy around seeking care," the release adds.

Dave Remy, director of client care with SOAHAC said it is crucial that there's cultural sensitive care available to the Indigenous patients. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC)

Dave Remy, director of client care with SOAHAC, said the organization has worked with a number local programs and is spearheading a social media campaign to work toward tackling vaccine hesitancy within the communities.

Remy said word of mouth has been proving to be most effective with more vaccinated people encouraging members of their family and friends to also book their appointment.

"It's important for us to get a space for them so that they feel comfortable and that there's cultural sensitive care available to them to provide these vaccines," Remy said. 

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