'Wellness warriors' host clinics, provide support to get elders vaccinated

People known as wellness warriors don't need a sword to do their job. Darian Agecoutay from Regina uses things like a phone as his weapons of choice to support Indigenous elders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Giving back for what they did for us,' says Regina's Darian Agecoutay

Research director Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose from the Wellness Wheel, Kookum Lillian Piapot and wellness warrior Darian Agecoutay at an elder immunization clinic on March 3, 2021. (Cody Lloyd, Wellness Wheel)

People known as wellness warriors don't need a sword to do their job. 

Darian Agecoutay, a peer health advocate from Regina otherwise known as a wellness warrior, uses things like a phone or a car as his weapons of choice to support Indigenous elders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They feel really happy when I get to call them," said Agecoutay.

"At this time of COVID, it's even harder because they're stuck at home not seeing anybody. So I think it helps a lot with the mental health."

The 23-year-old student started working as an elder support peer for the Wellness Wheel last November. Initially the non-profit assigned him to do wellness checks for elders to make sure they have everything they need, he said, with some phone calls lasting up to an hour-and-a-half.

"We don't want them going out and having to go to these big stores and buy things … and risk their health"

Some elders hesitant to get vaccinated

Throughout March, the Wellness Wheel Medical Clinic & Indigenous Community Research Network has been hosting vaccine clinics, which gave Agecoutay more opportunities to support Indigenous elders.

He has been co-ordinating vaccination appointments in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, he said.

"We had some elders who didn't initially want to be vaccinated," said Agecoutay.

"Just because of things they might have heard online or just some worries that they had amongst themselves."

Health professionals such as nurses have been answering the questions of the elders to help reduce the worries. Many who first weren't too eager to jump on the COVID-19 vaccine now feel relieved, said Agecoutay.

"Now that they're fully vaccinated they feel like they did their part," he said.

Transportation can be a challenge for elders; a problem that Agecoutay and his colleagues have taken care of.

"They set it up for me with the ride and everything, I felt so good," said Elder Lillian Piapot, who is now fully vaccinated with two doses.

Lillian Piapot, kookum at the Wellness Warrior Program, was nervous to receive her COVID-19 vaccine. (Cody Lloyd, Wellness Wheel)

"The second one was kind of rough. But still, you know, I'd rather have that than … contract the disease of COVID because at my age … I wouldn't do well."

Piapot said she now wants her whole family to get vaccinated.

"My elder friends I encourage to get all the protection that they need for our grandchildren and for the young people, too."

Indigenous elders are known for caring for their communities, so Agecoutay is grateful for the opportunity to support them now.

"It's like giving back for what they did for us when we were younger."

With files from The Morning Edition