B.C. First Nations begin receiving Moderna vaccine in remote communities

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — First Nations in B.C. have another tool in the fight against COVID-19.

December 30th is first day the Moderna vaccine is available for First Nations communities in B.C.

So far, ten First Nations communities have received the vaccine.

Dr. Shannon McDonald, the First Nations Health Authority’s Acting Chief Medical Officer says despite the good new, challenges lie ahead.

“People are nervous and some of the history with First Nations has not been great when it comes to medical care, infectious diseases and other things.”

McDonald believes there is still work ahead in repairing relationships and assuaging fears around the vaccines within First Nations communities.

“There is a level of mistrust that we have to work through. This is not a mandatory vaccine, everybody has a choice as to whether or not they want to take it.”

B.C’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is optimistic about the rollout of the Moderna vaccine compared to the Pfizer one.

“We have done a lot of immunizations over the last week. One of the things we are learning is that this vaccine is fussy, both of them. It’s not a simple thing to use the Pfizer vaccine,” she explained.

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Between the first COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech, which arrived in B.C. on Dec. 14, the Moderna vaccine is the preferred option for remote communities since it is easier to handle and doesn’t require special ultra-cold storage.

The Moderna vaccine can be kept stable at -20 C whereas the Pfizer-BioNTech needs to be chilled to -70 C, making it harder to transport.

“We are using the Moderna vaccine, which is less of a challenge. The Pfizer vaccine didn’t work for us very well, it was very finnicky, it had to be kept in ultra-cold temperatures and was challenging to travel with,” Dr. McDonald says.

3 Nations (the Tahltan, Kaska and Tlingit Nations), in a statement said, Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek are among the first communities to get the jab.

Healthcare workers and elders in those Indigenous communities will be among the first to be vaccinated.

“Indigenous peoples have reduced access to stable housing, income, clean water and/or health and social services place many Indigenous peoples at higher risk of COVID-19,” according to The First Nations Health Authority.

On Dec. 29, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said it was aware of 628 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases on First Nations reserves in B.C.

B.C. ranks fourth in terms of confirmed cases of COVID-19 on First Nations reservations.

As of Dec. 29, ISC reported 2,435 cases in Alberta, 2,207 in Saskatchewan, 2,628 in Manitoba, 232 in Ontario, 229 in Quebec and 3 in Atlantic Canada.

Information on the COVID-19 vaccines can be found here in ten indigenous languages.

-With files from Tarnjit Parmar