VANCOUVER — The top doctor at British Columbia's First Nations Health Authority says active cases of COVID-19 are down after a "significant spike" in early January, and delivering the vaccine to all Indigenous communities by the end of next month is still possible.
Acting chief medical officer Dr. Shannon McDonald says the number of active cases among First Nations people in B.C. as of Friday was 426, including 185 who live on reserves, after surpassing 1,000 last month.
McDonald says provincial officials have not reported any cases of faster-spreading variants of the virus in First Nations communities, though she could not confirm how many COVID-positive samples were being analyzed.
Katie Hughes, the health authority's vice-president focused on public health, says just shy of 16,000 people in more than 90 First Nation communities have received COVID-19 vaccine so far, with doses expected soon in about a dozen more.
The widespread shortage of vaccine has hampered the delivery of doses, but Hughes says the province has assured them the goal of delivering vaccine to all B.C. First Nations by the end of March is still possible.
Hughes says about 42,000 first doses are required to vaccinate everyone living in First Nations communities, and to meet the target, they'll have to use more of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in addition to Moderna's, which is more easily transported to remote areas since it doesn't have to be kept as cold.
The health authority still has "a high degree of confidence" that they'll be able to meet that target by the end of March, Hughes told a news conference on Tuesday.
The authority is using a "whole of community" approach, said McDonald, meaning their target is to vaccinate everyone over the age of 18 living on reserve who wants to get the shot.
Some regional health authority partners who have contributed vaccine have been giving the shot to individuals aged 65 and above, she said, adding they'll return to some communities to reach everyone.
The health authority is also working with regional health authorities, the Metis Nation in B.C. and the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres to make sure all Indigenous people will have access to vaccine, including those living outside their home communities, said McDonald.
"(Community) leaders are coming back to us and saying they have responsibility for all of their members no matter where they live."
However, right now, McDonald said the health authority does not have sufficient supply for all First Nation community members who live away from home and would like to return to be vaccinated.
"Unfortunately, in the context of vaccine shortage, there have been extreme limitations as to how and where we can provide vaccine."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2021.
The Canadian Press