Nova Scotia

1st African Nova Scotian to get 2 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had to overcome her fears

Lisa Colley, the first African Nova Scotian to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, says at first she was reluctant to get immunized because she had concerns about care. The province's deputy chief medical officer of health says concerns around the vaccine in the Black community need to be heard.

'I just decided, you know, I had to put my faith and go with it'

The Health Association of African Canadians is holding a virtual town hall meeting about the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday evening. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The first African Nova Scotian to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine says at first she was reluctant to get immunized because she worried about not getting adequate care.

"Just not having that trust and I was afraid, you know, 'What if I get this, what if something happens? Will I get the right care?'" Lisa Colley told CBC's Information Morning. 

"Being African Nova Scotian, and all of the feedback that we've been getting regarding allergic reactions being such a high risk, I thought ... I could be one who would get affected and I didn't want to take the chance."

Then the health-care worker at Northwood in Halifax started thinking about her granddaughter who has cystic fibrosis. She called her manager back and said she'd get the vaccine.

"I just decided, you know, I had to put my faith and go with it," she said.

Colley received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December and the second dose last week. In the end, she said it felt like getting a regular flu shot and her only symptoms were chills a few days later.

We'll talk to Lisa Colley, an essential health care worker at Northwood, who is the first African Nova Scotian to receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. 7:15

Concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine are very real among some Black Nova Scotians due to a long history of racism in the health-care system, said Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed.

She's the province's deputy chief medical officer of health and has been involved in virtual town hall meetings to connect with Black communities during the pandemic.

A town hall focused on the COVID-19 vaccine roll out in Nova Scotia is scheduled for Friday evening.

Lisa Colley is the first African Nova Scotian to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Lisa Colley)

"We hear complaints about Black communities feeling like their concerns are dismissed, like they're not taken seriously. I wish we could say that that was in our past. I think it's very much part of our present and we have to pay attention to it," Watson-Creed said. 

Part of the concern for some people is whether the new vaccines have been tested on a diverse group of patients during clinical trials. 

Watson-Creed said the two vaccines that have been licensed in Canada — by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech — included Black people from around the world in their trials. 

"That's really important that those communities see themselves represented and represented fairly in the same way that other populations are represented in the study," she said.

Pandemic has been 'very lonely'

Colley said it feels great to have the vaccine, "but you still have to wear your mask, you still have to protect yourself."

She knows exactly how devastating the virus can be. Her mom died from COVID-19 last spring.

"We had to have an outdoor funeral and, you know, the ones that were there, we were separated. We couldn't embrace each other so it was very hard," she said.

Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, Nova Scotia's deputy chief medical officer of health, is shown at a technical briefing on Dec. 15. (CBC)

Colley said the pandemic has been especially hard on North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon, neighbouring Black communities on the outskirts of Halifax.

"We're losing a lot of people. You know, our elderly are dying and we're a very close knit community," she said. 

"We like to embrace. We like to if we lose a loved one, to go to their home and to offer food and to just be there and to offer, you know, our support and we can't do that now so we're feeling very lonely."

Our conversation with Nova Scotia Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, about a virtual town hall on the COVID-19 vaccine held by the Health Association of African Canadians. 8:00

Watson-Creed said having frank conversations about the pandemic, and the roll out of the vaccine, are important in Black communities. 

"These are … the same communities that are also at high-risk from a COVID outbreak, and so we don't want to see that risk compounded by lack of vaccination," she said.

Nova Scotia has set a goal of immunizing 75 per cent of the population against COVID-19 by early fall.

Friday's town hall about the vaccine is hosted by the Health Association of African Canadians, which has been holding a series of forums for Black communities since the start of the pandemic.

Sharon Davis-Murdoch, co-president of the group, said the first town hall was held before the provincial state of emergency was even put in place on March 22.

"We needed to respond to false and dangerous internet stories about Black people being immune to COVID-19, and we wanted to bring together ... clinical experts and people from our communities to basically speak to misinformation," she told CBC's Mainstreet

Friday's virtual town hall runs from 6:30-8 p.m.

This story is part of a CBC project entitled Being Black in Canada, which highlights the stories and experiences of Black Canadians, from anti-Black racism to success stories Black communities can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC News)

With files from CBC's Information Morning and Mainstreet