Saskatchewan

Sask. Indigenous groups support letter of intent submitted to obtain 6M doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) says it submitted a letter of intent to obtain at least six million doses of the newly-approved Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine. Now it's asking for funding from the federal government to secure the doses.

Letter of intent submitted, FSIN works to secure funding to finalize purchase of doses

A nurse prepares for the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at nursing home in Goyang, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. South Korea on Friday administered its first available shots of coronavirus vaccines to people at long-term care facilities, launching a mass immunization campaign that health authorities hope will restore some level of normalcy by the end of the year. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says it submitted a letter of intent to obtain at least six million doses of the newly-approved AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

"Our First Nations leaders decided that we should take advantage of our international relationships and secure our own supply of this life-saving vaccine," Cameron said in a statement. 

"If we can help the broader Canadian public, then we will absolutely do that."

FSIN — along with the James Smith Cree Nation, the Prince Albert Grand Council and Meadow Lake Tribal Council — are now asking for funding to obtain the vaccines.

James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns confirmed the letter was submitted and said it secures anywhere between six and 60 million doses of the vaccine.

He said the Cree Nation is using its right to sovereignty in submitting a letter of intent for the vaccines in a way that groups like the FSIN, Prince Albert Grand Council or Meadow Lake Tribal Council could not.

The Cree Nation, he said, is also hoping to see the federal government recognize the pestilence and medicine chest clauses of Treaty 6 — which the Nation is a signatory of — and provide the funding required to secure the vaccines.

The clauses have been interpreted by Indigenous leaders to mean that the federal government has an obligation to provide health care to First Nations people on an ongoing basis.  

"That's one of the things I really take [seriously], is making sure the Treaties are looked upon and acted upon on both parties," Burns said. 

"I'm asking to make sure that we do understand and how we can utilize this... as a Treaty area." 

There was a possibility, he said, that vaccines could start rolling out by the end of March if the necessary funding were approved.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine was approved by Health Canada for use in the country on Friday after a months-long review.

The department's regulators found the shot has an efficacy rate of 62 per cent and it was authorized for use in adults 18 and older. 

The regulators found the shot to be 100 per cent effective in preventing the severe outcomes of COVID-19 including serious illness, hospitalization and death.

The FSIN news release said due to the early submission of the letter of intent to purchase the doses, the vaccines could arrive "in a very timely manner."

Another letter obtained by CBC News showed FSIN contacted the Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller at least two times in February to procure funding for the letter of intent's ask.

The letter to the minister said FSIN had an opportunity to obtain anywhere between six and 60 million doses of the Astrazeneca-Oxford vaccine. 

The letter asked the minister to immediately provide $21 million to FSIN to complete the purchase of six million doses.

"Six million doses is greater than what we require," the letter, signed by Chief Cameron, said. 

"We will of course be more than pleased to help all Canadians by turning the decision for distribution back to you, to meet your priorities of front-line workers and long term care homes."

Burns said he was to meet with Department of Indigenous Service officials to pursue funding for the vaccine doses further.

A request for further comment from FSIN was not returned by deadline. A request for comment from the Department of Indigenous Services was directed to Health Canada.

Health Canada did not return a request for comment by deadline.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Eneas

Reporter

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he reported in central and northern Saskatchewan. Send news tips to Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.

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