SLFNHA Public Health Physician, Kiiwetinoong MPP encourage uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA) Public Health Physician Dr. Lloyd Douglas and Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa have shared virtual messages as part of their attempts to encourage people to get themselves and their children over the age of 12, vaccinated.
Dr. Douglas reported in a June 14 SLFNHA COVID-19 update video on YouTube that there were zero COVID-19 cases in the communities served by SLFNHA as of June 14, as well as June 25. “Having zero cases in the area as of this time, we are grateful for that. It is due to the hard work of the communities themselves,” he said, adding, “When we abide by the public health rules and measures, we are able to control COVID-19 in our region.”
There are two major factors that are contributing to these minimal COVID-19 case counts, shared Douglas. One that our region is seeing increasing vaccine coverage rates at this time with Operation Remote Immunity (ORI) 2.0 he said, adding that the other reason being “individuals for the most part are abiding by public health measures.”
With the expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for youth aged 12 and over, ORI 2.0 was commenced on May 31 to ensure access to these vaccines for youths aged 12 to 17 in Ontario’s 31 fly-in northern communities and Moosonee, shared an Ontario news release.
As of June 23, the ORI 2.0 team has administered 948 first doses, with 105 people fully vaccinated out of a total population of 2896 individuals 12-17 year-olds, states SLFNHA’s website.
Douglas said that lead by Ornge (which provides air ambulance services), ORI 2.0 is made possible in partnership with SLFNHA, NAN (Nishnawbe Aski Nation), and all the Tribal Councils in the SLFNHA area, and individual communities, among others. “They are primarily responsible for the teams that go to the (fly-in) communities,” he said, adding, “They have two teams, and on each team, they have a paramedic, they have a pediatrician, they have other health care providers, and they bring the vaccine to the community. They work closely with communities’ vaccines coordinators and other leaders and health care providers in the community.”
SLFNHA has administered a total of 10,401 first doses, with 8,559 fully-vaccinated people over the age of 18, as of June 23.
Douglas suggests individuals 12 and older take the opportunity, and consider getting the vaccine when the Ornge team comes to their community. “While the focus is on youth vaccination at this time, adults too can get the vaccine if they have not received any doses yet.” He added, “So, adults, if you have not gotten your dose just yet, the Ornge team is coming your way, you can also go and sign-up and get your dose. It is extremely important that we increase the vaccine coverage in our region. We do know from the evidence that two doses of the vaccine is effective even against the Delta variant that was first identified in India. And we are still in that race between vaccination and the variant. So, getting both doses, that’s gonna be key.”
Douglas clarified that it is safe and effective to interchange Pfizer and Moderna, the vaccines available in our area, and advises people to take the shot that may be offered to them to be fully vaccinated.
Douglas shared that in attempts to identify the virus as soon as possible, and to mitigate and prevent a full-blown community outbreak; there are several public health recommendations in place. He added that according to the latest recommendations in place from June 3, until the end of July for SLFNHA’s catchment area, community members who leave the community for essential reasons are recommended a seven-day quarantine for those fully vaccinated, and 14 days for others upon their return, along with getting tested for COVID-19.
For non-community residents, Douglas recommends that only essential workers travel into the communities. Considering that isolating could be a challenge to essential workers making short-term visits to communities, Douglas suggests ensuring that these workers be fully vaccinated as best possible, cautiously working in their cohorts and get tested upon arrival and after seven days in a community.
Douglas motivates all community members to get fully vaccinated to maintain low case counts. He said, “We should be very cautious and vigilant because we know that there is a Delta variant that can pose a threat.”
Douglas added, “We acknowledge the wrong history of inadequate supports and services that they (Indigenous people) have received over the years. We acknowledge what has happened in terms of the mistrust that is there of the government, and the trends of ongoing systematic racism, so it’s not simple, and what we will do is we will continue to work with leadership at a community level. We will continue to work with health care providers in the communities and work with members of the community to provide them with the best information that we have, so that they can make a better decision.”
Douglas said, “We know that there’s lots of misinformation out there, on social media, and we continue to work with members and health care providers in the communities to support and serve them with providing the best information that we have, so that they can make an informed choice in regards to the vaccine.” He added, “Vaccine hesitancy, it’s a complicated issue and we understand other underlying issues that may be seeded into this, and we are just here to support the communities. We are not here to point fingers; we are not here to blame anyone. We are here to support and serve.”
In one of his recent attempts to promote vaccine uptake, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa, who has been undertaking several initiatives to tackle vaccine hesitancy and motivate community members to get their shot, also collaborated with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to feature in their video regarding vaccine confidence.
“The vaccine hesitancy exists because First Nations Indigenous people have never been in front of the line when we talk about access to services such as health, such as education, social services, correction services, like court services.” He added, “I think it’s so important that we support, encourage and ensure that Indigenous people in general get vaccinated because of the limited access to health care and also the overcrowding in the communities.”
Mamakwa said that effective messaging is vital in order to protect the Indigenous communities, families, elders and children, from COVID-19. “There were certainly experiments that happened to Indigenous people with previous history. So, I think it is really important that we address that. I think those are a couple of the reasons why vaccine hesitancy exists and it’s so important that we address it,” he said.
Mamakwa said that the youth, similar to adults, require motivation and support, and that he plans to visit communities to encourage ORI 2.0 and help increase vaccine uptake. He encourages parents, grandparents and guardians to get their children vaccinated.
“Another thing that we have to remember is that at this time, we don’t have a vaccine yet approved for children under 12. Which, therefore means 12 and older should get vaccinated, so that they can form a ring, or a bubble around our children who are under 12, until vaccines are available for them as well,” said Douglas. He offers several opportunities for community members to reach out with any questions. Douglas conducts a Facebook Live update every Wednesday at 5 p.m., as well as answers community questions about the vaccine and relating to the hesitancy around it. Anyone with questions can reach out to [email protected].