New Brunswick

91-year-old among first in line as Tobique First Nation welcomes vaccine clinic

The relief was palpable Monday as members of Tobique First Nation converged on a community centre to get their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

300 members of First Nation get their first dose of vaccine against COVID-19

Henrietta Black, 91, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from Trena Hafke, a licensed practical nurse, as part of the vaccine clinic held for members of Tobique First Nation on Monday. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The relief was palpable Monday as members of Tobique First Nation converged on a community centre to get their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Henrietta Black, at 91 the oldest woman on the reserve, rolled up her sleeve to let licensed practical nurse Trena Hafke inject the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine into her right arm.

"Relieved," Black said a few minutes later as she sat in a waiting area to ensure she didn't have any serious side effects.

It's been a long pandemic in this Indigenous community, also known as Negotkuk, on the Wolastoq River. An outbreak of six cases earlier this year put the reserve into a lockdown, and even before that Black was unable to see her three children who all live and work outside the province.

"The worst part is the holidays," she said. "My children can't come to see me. They're all living away. I don't have anybody here."

Now, "after a week I'll feel free to go shopping," she said.

Black lives alone and has only been seeing three or four people.

"I don't go much anywhere since this," she said. "But I can't wait to get out and feel free to go shopping. Feel free to go to Fredericton."

Black was one of 300 people invited to receive their first shot Monday. Another 300 are invited Tuesday, and future clinics are planned to offer the vaccine to everyone else in the community.

"This clinic gives us all a sense of relief that we're going to be that much safer in a short period of time … and gradually take steps toward the new normal," said Chief Ross Perley. 

Chief Ross Perley says the vaccine clinic has brought a sense of relief to the First Nation. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

New Brunswick Public Health officials have included Indigenous people 16 years old or older in the first phase of the vaccine rollout because they're considered at higher risk of serious illness.

The province says it expects 11,000 doses of vaccine to have been administered to First Nations band members living on and off reserve, and their families, over three weeks. 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said Friday she expects all New Brunswickers to have had their first dose by the end of June.

Ottawa is expected to deliver more than 37,000 doses of vaccine to the province this week. 

There are 2,600 members of the Tobique First Nation, of whom more than 1,500 live on the reserve.

The clinics are open to both on and off-reserve band members and their families.

Former lieutenant-governor and band member Graydon Nicholas and his wife drove up from Fredericton Monday to get their shots. 

Former lieutenant-governor and band member Graydon Nicholas receives his shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

"It was a great surprise for us that we could actually get it earlier, and we're really glad," he said.

At a convenience store on the reserve, Nicholas ran into an old friend who was having doubts about the vaccine.

600 band members of Tobique First Nation invited to get their first dose as vaccination plan underway

2 years ago
Duration 1:55
Vaccination clinics for COVID-19 are unfolding in First Nations communities across New Brunswick this week.

"He said he wasn't sure. I said, 'Come on now, it's not that bad. I don't think you'll faint,' just teasing him. But I said it's better to get this shot if you have the opportunity to do it. There's one less worry." 

Vaccine hesitancy is a concern among First Nations communities not only because of misinformation spread on social media but also because of a history of mistreatment of Indigenous people by governments, said community health nurse Kiersten Nissen.

Nurses Cindy Wright, left, and Janice Briggs prepare shots of COVID-19 vaccine. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

"It goes back years," she said. "And it's not traditional medicine, It's a new vaccine. So it's a mixture of things. People are nervous about things that are new that they don't understand."

But turnout has been good so far, she added. 

"I kind of was apprehensive," said 73-year-old Vaughn Nicholas, "but we know how serious this thing is. If you don't take it and you get sick, terrible things are going to happen to you."

Tobique First Nation member Vaughn Nicholas gets his photo taken after receiving a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Nissen has a team of 30 people preparing doses, screening and registering band members and administering the doses. 

She also set up a selfie station, so that people can commemorate the moment. 

"This is kind of history that we're making right now," she said.