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Vaccine arrives for COVID-19-battered Vancouver Island First Nations

Two west Vancouver Island First Nations have begun their COVID-19 vaccination drive after the arrival of the Moderna vaccine in their communities.

The COVID-19-battered Ehattesaht Chinehkint First Nations (ECFN) near Zeballos and the Kyuquot/Checleseht First Nations (KCFN) on the Island’s northwest corner are among eight select B.C. First Nations to have received the vaccines.

Ehhattesht started a two-day vaccination drive on Jan. 4 for its 100-member community in Ehatis reserve.

The remote First Nation locked down after a 42-day outbreak saw 28 members testing positive in December. The lockdown was lifted between Christmas and New Year’s after the outbreak was contained.

“We were informed on the 28th (of December) that vaccines were in transit and we started to plan the roll out with our membership right away. It was decided that chief and council needed to go first to show leadership and demonstrate the importance of the vaccine,” said band manager and COVID-19 response coordinator Darlene Smith.

READ MORE: Remote B.C. First Nations to begin getting Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine this week

Chief Simon John said band members are “nervous” about taking the vaccines, which is why the leadership stepped up to receive the first doses.

“For me this feels a bit historic,” said John. “I know First Nations in remote communities have been asking to be first for a long time and I think this gives us some comfort since we are a long way from a hospital.”

The vaccines will be administered by two nurses in the nation’s health wing and a third nurse will be monitoring the vaccine recipients. A nurse navigator will also go door-to-door in the community to address members’ concerns, Smith says.

KCFN, meanwhile will begin its vaccination drive Wednesday, Jan. 6 and continue until Friday Jan.8.

READ MORE: Ehatis continues its COVID-19 outbreak battle with new cases, recoveries and strict bylaws

Steinar Vage, the band’s director of community services said Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) nurses will bring in the vaccines and they will be administered to KCFN members in Houpsitas. KCFN has an estimated population of 164 members living on reserve.

“We have people that are concerned and also those who are excited about the vaccines,” said Vage.

Although he did not disclose the number of doses KCFN received, he said they are hoping to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

NTC, which represents 14 First Nations, including Ehhattesaht and KCFN, is urging its members to take the latest Health Canada-approved Moderna vaccine when it becomes available.

In a statement, NTC leadership tells its membership that the vaccines have both gone through rigorous testing and approval processes, only being approved by Health Canada once deemed safe and effective.

“We encourage anyone over the age of 18, not breastfeeding, and not allergic to any of the ingredients, to take the vaccine when it becomes available in your community.”

The First Nations are receiving the Moderna vaccine, because the first approved COVID-19 vaccines in Canada – the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – requires subfreezing temperatures for storage (-70) challenging transportation and storage logistics to remote communities.

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Binny Paul, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

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Binny Paul, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

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