Nipissing First Nation chief relieved after COVID-19 vaccination program gets underway

·3 min read

The chief of Nipissing First Nation, west of North Bay, said that he and his community breathed a collective sigh of relief as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout got underway on the territory.

Chief Scott McLeod said the vaccination program has given members peace of mind and has led to cautious optimism that this may be the beginning of the end for the COVID-19 global pandemic.

About a dozen elders who live in the territory’s seniors’ complex in Garden Village were vaccinated Feb. 8, while another 22 people, including front-line health-care workers, received their shots the next day at the community’s Lawrence Commanda Health Centre in Garden Village. It is not entirely clear exactly when those people will receive their second dose of the vaccine. But it is expected that more vaccines will arrive at the territory in early March. Just over 900 members live in the Nipissing First Nation community.

The health centre has received at least 732 requests from members who want the shot. The Garden Valley gymnasium, part of the First Nation’s administration facility, is expected to be used as a vaccination centre in mid-March. Nurses in the territory have already held a mock mass immunization clinic in preparation for when the vaccine rollout expands to the rest of the community members.

McLeod said the initial vaccination program ran very well, for the most part.

“There were just a couple of hiccups with some of the elders because of a reluctance to the vaccine but it was not a fear of the vaccine. One or two of the elders were a little squeamish about needles,” the chief said. “Other than that, everything in the first round went very smoothly. It was good to see the elders and the people who work with them get vaccinated.”

McLeod said that he sympathizes with elders who live at the seniors’ complex because they haven’t been able to visit with family and friends as often as they would normally, due to COVID protocols. He said that the global pandemic has been hard on all of us but his heart really goes out to elders who may be having a hard time with loneliness and isolation, right now.

There has been some reluctance among Indigenous people across Canada about the COVID vaccination. Some feared that First Nations people were given priority to the vaccine so that they could to be used as test subjects to see if it worked and its side effects. Most Indigenous leaders, including McLeod, are encouraging their people to get the shots but say they understand the apprehensions given the ongoing mistreatment of Indigenous people in the Canadian health-care system.

McLeod said it is easy to sit back and judge how governments have done in terms of helping Indigenous people deal with the pandemic across the country. He thinks health officials have done the best job they can under extremely trying and unprecedented circumstances.

McLeod said that the First Nation is currently COVID-free but they did have a situation about a month ago in which an employee of the cannabis store, that operates on the territory, came down with the coronavirus. He said that worker and others employed at the store all self-isolated for two weeks. The chief said the store itself also closed for several days. He added that it has since reopened and the worker has recovered.

The chief also said that he worries about people in his territory who may be struggling with mental health and addiction issues during COVID. He said, however, that was a concern long before the coronavirus hit. The chief encouraged any of his members who may be struggling psychologically to contact the local health centre.

​John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous issues for MuskokaRegion.com, ParrySound.com and Simcoe.com. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orillia Today