Elders in Cape Breton First Nations communities receive first dose of COVID-19 vaccine

·3 min read

MEMBERTOU — Elders in Membertou First Nation began streaming through the doors of the Membertou Entertainment Centre Tuesday morning, physically distanced of course, to receive their first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Senator Dan Christmas was the first to roll up his sleeves for the injection as part of the community's vaccine rollout. He says some people think the vaccine is for themselves but really, it's for others.

"If you become infected and then begin to transmit the virus, you hurt not just yourself, but your family and your community, and the elders, so I tell people, get the vaccine."

The federal government has identified Indigenous communities among groups that are particularly vulnerable to the virus, and has prioritized those communities as part of the Canadian immunization efforts. According to the most recent data, more than 100,000 doses have been administered in First Nations communities at a rate six times higher than the rest of the country.

Madelaine O'Reilly says just over 180 on-reserve community members aged 55 and older will be immunized over two days. She is a registered nurse and the co-ordinator of the Membertou Wellness Home. She says it will be a relief to have the elders vaccinated.

"They are our language keepers and our knowledge keepers, so we need to protect them."

O'Reilly and the rest of the health-care workers at the wellness home received both doses of the vaccine early in the new year in order to give them to the rest of the community. She says staff were trained to handle and administer the Pfizer vaccine over the last few weeks. The medication is kept frozen and must be thawed for at least 30 minutes before it's used, and can sit for up to seven hours at room temperature.

Appointments for the shots were made weeks ago to ensure that there would be enough doses for everyone that wanted one. O'Reilly says that by the end of this month, after the second doses are administered, the majority of elders in Membertou will be immune to the virus.

Chief Terry Paul was second in line for the day's appointments and sat enthusiastically for his shot. He says the community has not had any cases of COVID-19 and he wants to keep it that way.

"I just want to hand it to the community for following the rules and the guidelines ... I think everyone should take (the vaccine) and we should all work together in defeating this (pandemic)."

Paul says he doesn't know yet when the immunizations will be available to the rest of the community, but he says he's hoping everyone that wants a shot will be vaccinated by early summer.

Wagmatcook First Nation is also immunizing people aged 55 and older this week and Eskasoni First Nation is taking appointments now for its vaccine clinic starting on March 8.

Ardelle Reynolds, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post