Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation leaders urge members to get vaccine amid community hesitancy

Leaders in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation say vaccine hesitancy and low case counts are keeping people away from community immunization clinics but they're urging members to still get vaccinated. 

1,590 Moderna vaccine shots available to eligible members, says Chief Marcel Moody

Chief Marcel Moody said members from CFB Shilo arrived in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation on Monday to help them administer their mass immunization clinic. (Joyce Brightnose, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation)

Leaders in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) in Manitoba say vaccine hesitancy and low case counts are keeping people away from a community immunization clinic but they're urging members to still get vaccinated. 

"It's now an opportunity for people to do their part and get vaccinated so this thing will end, so we can get back to normalcy in our lives," said Chief Marcel Moody.

The mass vaccination clinic was set up March 25 at the community's recreation complex with the help of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Nearly 1,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine are ready for community members but only 230 doses were administered by last Friday.

Moody estimates there are 2,300 adults on-reserve who are eligible to get the vaccine but he worries that members are hesitant about it. 

"We only have two weeks to try and get as many done in a two week period," said Moody, who has heard from people who are worried about how fast vaccines were developed. 

He said he thinks because strict protocols, including entry checkpoints, curfews, and total lockdowns since the pandemic began, have led to low case counts, those low numbers have led people to believe they don't need to get the vaccine.

Melanie MacKinnon, head of the Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, who leads Clinical Operations for Manitoba's First Nation's COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team, said that's not the case and that it's important for First Nations to take advantage of vaccination clinics when they're offered.

"It's one of the first times in history that we're first in line for something that's good. And it's a life saving tool that we have access to right now," MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon said the Moderna vaccine is 94 to 95 per cent effective and is "very safe."

"This past year hasn't been normal," she said.

"The vaccine is another tool we can use to come together again and see our families."

Making doses available to off-reserve members

Moody said they will welcome off-reserve members who live in places like Thompson and Winnipeg to get their vaccinations. 

"If people are willing to come up and get the vaccine tomorrow, we'll allow that to happen. We're not going to stop people from getting the vaccine," said Moody. 

Moody said those living outside of NCN should get in contact with the leadership or the health authority before travelling there.

Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation is encouraging off-reserve members to contact the leadership or band's health team so they can receive the Moderna vaccine. (Joyce Brightnose, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation)

He said people will have to sign consent forms, and they will be met at the community checkstop, where they will be driven into the community to get their shots, and then will be escorted back out, to discourage any visiting.

Moody and the band's councillors all received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine last week. To encourage people to do the same, they're offering incentives like a draw for $500 daily cash prizes for adults who get their shot during the mass clinic. 

The immunization clinic in NCN is expected to run till Thursday, with a possibility of it being extended by a week.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1