Local First Nations keeping COVID-19 at bay

·3 min read

There are no active COVID-19 cases on the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and virtually all adult band members who want to be vaccinated have received at least their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

But the Indigenous territory southwest of Hamilton remains on high alert.

When Ontario announced a month-long lockdown effective April 3, MCFN council followed suit, extending the closure of public buildings and the cancellation of non-essential programs and services.

“We’re just ensuring that everyone has the chance to get their vaccine before we start expanding those services,” said MCFN chief operating officer Kailey Thomson.

Health-care workers from MCFN and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit have given first doses to the approximately 600 eligible band members living on the reserve or in nearby communities.

A pair of clinics held on the reserve over the weekend saw 540 second doses administered among 588 total shots.

“We’ve been fostering this great working relationship with their council and their health-care practitioners to make this all happen as quickly as we can,” said Norfolk EMS chief Sarah Page.

Thomson said the reserve’s partnership with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has been “very positive.”

“I owe them a lot of thanks for being able to co-ordinate this so quickly and ensure that our doses have been given on time,” she said.

As a priority population with systemic underlying health conditions that increase the likelihood of serious negative reactions to COVID-19, Indigenous adults are not subject to the four-month delay for second doses faced by most Ontarians.

A concerted effort to educate the public about the risks of the virus and the benefits of the vaccine seems to have worked to address some initial hesitancy, Thomson added.

“Planning with the health unit and the staff here, educating the members, I think it really opened them up to being accepting of the vaccine,” she said. “So I think that’s why we had such a great turnout.”

While all 18 COVID-19 patients on MCFN have recovered, there remains the challenge of vaccinating people who work in the territory but are not band members and do not live on the reserve.

But Thomson said band members remain cautiously optimistic better days are ahead.

“People are still concerned, and still abiding by public health measures put in place by council, as well as provincial guidelines. I think there’s still the concern of bringing COVID into the community,” she said.

“But we’re hopeful that everyone will receive the vaccine who wants the vaccine, and that would help improve services and keep everyone safe.”

Six Nations tightens restrictions

Meanwhile, Six Nations of the Grand River moved from orange to red on the reserve’s COVID-19 response scale late last week, reflecting heightened concern over variants and rising case counts in Haldimand-Norfolk and Brant.

Indoor gatherings between households are forbidden and non-essential travel is discouraged. Schools and daycares on the reserve remain closed.

Earlier this year, Six Nations was in the throes of a prolonged COVID-19 surge that led to eight deaths.

There remain eight active cases, with one patient in hospital.

As of Monday, 2,119 band members had been partially vaccinated, with 293 people having received their second shot.

Four cases out of 445 have screened positive for a variant of concern.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator