Sudbury

NOSM dean 'inspired' by opportunity to help vaccinate remote First Nations

Students and faculty from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine will be playing a big part in vaccinating northerners against COVID-19, starting in remote First Nations.

'When I got the call, I was extremely honoured and proud of my medical school'

Dr. Sarita Verma, NOSM dean, president and CEO, says students and faculty will be vaccinating people in about 30 First Nation communities. (Supplied/NOSM)

Students and faculty from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine will be playing a big part in vaccinating northerners against COVID-19, starting in remote First Nations.

The Ministry of Health recently reached out to NOSM to participate in the delivery and administration of vaccines to fly-in, remote communities — roughly 30 or so.

"They recognize we have relationships, we know the geography, we know the people, we have expertise," said Dr. Sarita Verma, dean, president and CEO of NOSM.

"We're one of the very few institutions that has networked across the north in a pan-northern way."

Verma says the province's air ambulance service, Ornge, is leading the massive collaboration, while NOSM teams will help deliver the vaccinations in tandem with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Weeneebayko Area Health Authority. 

"When I got the call, I was extremely honoured and proud of my medical school, I don't know of any other medical schools that are engaged in this kind of way," Verma said.

"As the leader of a school that has a mandate and social accountability, I can't tell you how inspired I feel for our school, our students. Everybody wants to be part of the solution. This is such a remarkable way for us to — not only be part of a transformative stage in Canada's health history — but to actually learn in a public health way."

Northern Ontario School of Medicine students and faculty will be helping vaccinate people in remote First Nation communities. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Verma says NOSM aims to compose teams of doctors, residents and students — senior students in particular, as they have past experience working in many First Nations communities. Volunteers are already lining up to help in what she calls "very respected collaborations."

"The elders in these communities are a sacred trust of Canadian populations. So we need [NOSM volunteers] to have cultural indigenous learnings that are reflections of what it means to be part of this kind of immense collaboration with Indigenous communities."

Verma says their top priority is to not disrupt the work that people are doing in clinical settings currently underway.

"So we don't want to pull our students and residents out of the work that they're already doing. But some of our people are available because they have electives or they have more flexible time because some clinics are still not at full speed."

There will be roughly six teams of at least five to seven people that would include a doctor, students and residents, plus the paramedic and the administrator, Verma said.

All will need to be vaccinated before going north.

"We are not going to bring covid to those communities. I don't see teams actually leaving until either the 15th or the 22nd of February."

Once their work is underway in the First Nations communities, they hope to vaccinate people who are 18 years of age and older, with those who are 55-plus being at the front of the line.

They will be administering the Moderna vaccine, which involves two doses, given 28 days apart.

With files from Markus Schwabe

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