COVID-19 vaccine uptake slower in some of Saskatchewan's far north communities

·2 min read

REGINA — A health official serving Saskatchewan's northernmost communities says there are plans to send any leftover COVID-19 vaccine elsewhere after a slower than expected uptake in vaccinations.

Derek Keller, executive director of primary health care for the Athabasca Health Authority, says there are about 290 Moderna vaccine doses left out of 710 that arrived on Jan. 6.

“If I would do it again, I would have waited a week and got the freezer conditioned, and then we could have paced ourselves a lot better and there wouldn’t be this impending crisis here in the next week about moving vaccines," Keller said Thursday.

The initial doses were divided among the region's remote communities, he said.

All doses in Stony Rapids were used, but it has been slower going in the First Nations communities of Fond-du-Lac and Black Lake, which both have active COVID-19 cases.

The health authority reported that, as of Thursday, Black Lake had 23 active cases, with three people in hospital. Fond-du-Lac had seven active cases and two people in hospital.

The health authority said 94 people in Black Lake were isolating because they were deemed a close contact of a positive case. Thirteen of the community's households had active cases.

"It’s the younger generation that’s not taking this virus seriously. A lot have been sick and recovered quite well, mild symptoms." said Keller, who added that elders have been more worried.

He attributed the slower vaccine uptake in the two communities to misinformation circulating online about its safety because of how fast it was developed -- something officials have tried to combat through education.

As well, two people who were vaccinated ended up in hospital with COVID-19, but they were exposed to the virus before they were vaccinated, Keller explained.

“Their hospitalization has nothing to do with the vaccine.”

Keller said another possible reason for the reluctance by some to get a shot could be the lasting mistrust caused by colonization and residential schools.

Because the leftover doses have been thawed, they have to be used by Feb. 6, he said. Doses that remain by the end of Friday will be sent to the community of Hatchet Lake to ensure none are wasted.

“I don’t deny that we’ve probably put off some people by ... phoning them and approaching them, being more forward about taking the vaccine."

People 50 and older living in isolated northern communities were prioritized to get their shots under the first phase of the provincial government's vaccination rollout, along with health-care workers and long-term care residents.

A national advisory committee on immunization recommended adults in Indigenous communities be in the first phase, because distance from health services contributes to a higher risk of severe illnesses.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan.28, 2021

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press