As COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out across British Columbia, the BC Assembly of First Nations has launched a new campaign to “help dispel myths and encourage everyone to be vaccinated" in Indigenous communities.
The “Protecting Our People” public service announcement, aimed at reducing vaccine hesitancy, was released March 8 and will be broadcast on television and social media.
The short animation, with beautiful graphic visuals by Derek Edenshaw, a Haida and Cree artist, and a musical soundtrack by Kym Gouchie of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, explains how the vaccine protects Indigenous communities, and particularly Elders.
BCAFN explains that many First Nations are understandably cautious and have questions about the vaccines.
“Our peoples’ experiences with the Canadian health care system and colonial values make some of us hesitant about receiving vaccines,” BCAFN states. “Unfortunately, false information is being circulated, especially on social media, about the COVID-19 vaccines.”
BCAFN is hoping that through sharing information about the various vaccines on their website and through the new campaign, they can bring “peace of mind to those who have questions.”
“We know that COVID-19 kills elderly people at higher rates than younger people,” BCAFN states. “Our Elders hold our knowledge, cultures, and languages. We need to ensure that Elders are vaccinated and that as many people as possible get vaccinated to achieve 'herd immunity' and build additional protection for our vulnerable members.”
Terry Teegee, regional chief of the BCAFN, narrates the campaign video, stressing that the vaccine is safe and has gone through rigorous testing.
“When you look at the numbers coming out of surveys on the vaccine, you see a high degree of hesitance for anyone under the age of 65,” Teegee said.
“We know that this disease can target anyone and can have serious and lifelong impacts. We wanted to do our part to help dispel myths and encourage everyone to be vaccinated. That’s the only way to protect our communities, and I myself will be getting vaccinated as soon as I can.”
In First Nations communities across B.C., there have been 2,436 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
The launch of the video coincides with vaccines becoming available to more Indigenous communities in B.C. this week. As of March 9, there were 506 communities with vaccinations underway and 162,155 doses had been administered across Canada, reports ISC.
Squamish Nation is one of the nations which begun rolling out its first doses of vaccines for its communities at clinics on the North Shore and in the Squamish Valley this week. First in line for appointments are elders 65+ and those with serious underlying health conditions, including people living with a compromised immune system.
“I think people are relieved and excited,” said Khelsilem, Dustin Rivers, spokesperson for Squamish Nation. “I know for our elders and a lot of our members who are vulnerable, they have had to really do their best to protect themselves, and to avoid COVID-19, and they are looking forward to having that extra layer of protection.”
Khelsilem said while there was a sense of relief, there were still many questions and the nation staff were there to help answer them.
“We're encouraging people to get the vaccine, but we welcome any members that might have concerns or questions,” he said. “They can talk to their doctor, if they feel that's an option, but they can also talk to our health nurse and our staff to address any concerns that they might have about the vaccine.”
Community members unable to attend an on-reserve clinic, Indigenous people ages 65+, can now book an appointment close to their residence.
More information about the COVID-19 vaccine, and the public service announcement, can be found at BCAFN.
Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News