'Operation Remote Immunity' ramps up as Ornge prepares to vaccinate 31 fly-in First Nations
Soft launch ongoing since January, first community-wide vaccinations scheduled for Feb. 1
Cultural sensitivity and community safety are top of mind for the Ornge team tasked with transporting COVID-19 vaccines and vaccinating 31 remote First Nations in northern Ontario, a monumental task they have designated "Operation Remote Immunity."
While the Ornge team has already completed a soft launch, by transporting the Moderna vaccine and providing it to some vulnerable populations in Sioux Lookout, Moose Factory, Attawapiskat and Fort Albany, the plan is to begin community-wide vaccinations in five First Nations starting Feb. 1 — just two weeks away.
Before that can happen though, Ornge chief operating officer for medical operations Wade Durham said much remains to be done.
The vaccinators are getting vaccinated with both Moderna shots, vaccine doses are being checked and prepared, lists have been drawn up to ensure all the equipment is ready, teams of clinicians formed and scheduled and hotel rooms are booked.
But the very first day that Ornge's entire operational team will spend together will be in training about cultural sensitivity.
So happy to hear that the clinicians who have signed up with <a href="https://twitter.com/Ornge?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Ornge</a> to provide vaccines in Northern Ontario’s Indigenous communities will spend their first day of training on cultural safety. 🙏🏼 to Dr. Homer Tien for your leadership.—@RicharLisa
"A lot of the [healthcare providers] are going to be coming in from southern Ontario and some of them haven't been up to northern Ontario, let alone some of the communities that they'll be going into," Durham said.
"At the end of the day, we are guests in these communities and we want to make sure everybody knows where they're going, some of the history of Indigenous people in the communities, some of the current realities that the providers will be facing."
Communication essential in vaccine planning
The cultural sensitivity training is one of 12 principles jointly established by Ornge and Nishnawbe Aski Nation that will guide the vaccination process.
Among the others: protecting community safety by ensuring all vaccinators had received both vaccinations doses themselves; enabling Ornge to take the lead on logistical planning; and seeking out alternative locations for the vaccinations to be administered — like schools or community centres — so that local nursing stations aren't overwhelmed.
Durham said one of the most critical factors to ensuring the success of Operation Remote Immunity is clear, consistent communication.
He said each First Nation has identified a community lead, who is in constant conversations with the Ornge task team about the operations, "making sure everything on the ground is ready in terms of the location. For example…we'll need drivers and support staff in the communities."
For Ornge's vaccination team, the healthcare staff are broken into six groups of six. First thing in the morning, each team will meet at the airport of their respective hub cities — one of Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Sudbury and Moosonee — and then "they'll travel into the community for the day and provide vaccines for about seven to eight hours on the ground.
"They'll return to the hub location for the night, and then they'll do everything over again the next day until we vaccinate the entire community and anybody who wants a vaccine has an opportunity to receive it," said Durham.
The goal, he added, is that each of the 31 isolated First Nations receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of April.