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COVID-19 vaccination campaign across Cree territory underway

Shipments of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were delivered safely Saturday across the nine inland and coastal communities of Eeyou Istchee, the traditional name of the Cree territory in northern Quebec. 

More than 3,000 vaccines have been administered across Eeyou Istchee

Nathalie Beaulieu, right, manager of northern operations centre at the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, looks on as cases of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are loaded onto an Air Creebec charter plane Saturday in Montreal. (CBHSSJB/Rodolphe Beaulieu-Poulin)

Health officials in northern Quebec Cree communities are pleased with the early rollout of a region-wide vaccination campaign launched in a snowstorm over the weekend. 

Shipments of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were delivered safely Saturday across the nine inland and coastal communities of Eeyou Istchee, the traditional name of the Cree territory in northern Quebec. 

"[Teams] were fully prepared ... as the vaccines arrived, everybody was set to go," said Bertie Wapachee, the chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. 

As the vaccines arrived, everybody was set to go.- Bertie Wapachee, Chairperson of CBHSSJB

"We were very proud of our team. And I'm very grateful to have all of them on the ground," said Wapachee.

Cases up in two Cree communities

More than 3,000 vaccinations have already been administered across Eeyou Istchee, according to officials. That includes 1,200 advance doses sent to Mistissini and Oujé-Bougoumou, two communities currently dealing with outbreaks of the virus. 

On Monday, local officials confirmed there are 26 cases of COVID-19 in Oujé-Bougoumou and 25 in Mistissini, up from last week. 

"Vaccination is an important first step toward being able to finally put this pandemic behind us as a nation," said Grand Chief Abel Bosum, who was vaccinated last week in Oujé-Bougoumou. 

Jeannie Pelletier is the director of the local community health clinic in Chisasibi. By Monday afternoon, about 700 people had been vaccinated in Chisasibi. (CBC North/ Christopher Herodier)

In Chisasibi, the largest of the Cree communities, more than 700 people had been vaccinated by 3 p.m. Monday, according to Jeannie Pelletier, who is the local director of the community's health clinic. 

"I believe the vaccine will help us, and I am happy that many [people] came," said Pelletier in Cree.

She also reminded people of the importance of continuing with the measures in place, such as physical distancing and wearing a mask, even after they have been vaccinated. 

"I wish to tell people that this won't end soon, and we still need to be vigilant in keeping with the safety protocols that are in place to keep us all safe," she said. 

The launch of the territory-wide vaccination campaign has been months in the planning, according to Jason Coonishish, coordinator of the pre-hospital and emergency measures for the CBHSSJB.

In recent weeks, the coordinating team has been meeting weekly to go over the logistics of the arrival of the doses and the transportation by air charter and car to the different communities across the vast territory. 

The vaccination campaign is expected to last eight weeks. 

Elder Allice Natachequan was among the first in her community of Whapmagoostui to get vaccinated against COVID-19 on Sunday. (CBHSSJB/Joshua J. Kawapit)

"We've been doing this for many years since H1N1, and every year after that we've been having influenza vaccines," said Coonishish. 

"We know how to handle it and we're ready." 

Coonishish is confident as the campaign gathers momentum and more people share photos and stories of being vaccinated, more and more Cree will choose to receive the vaccine and protect their families.

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