Nunavut municipality holds cash draw for vaccinated residents

·4 min read
Nunavut municipality holds cash draw for vaccinated residents

A vaccination clinic starts Thursday in Arviat, Nunavut, the community that has seen most of the territory's COVID-19 cases.

The municipality is encouraging residents to get vaccinated by offering cash prizes.

Residents of the central Nunavut hamlet of about 3,000 people can win one of five $2,000 prizes for getting the shot.

"It's to entice people to get inoculated," Arviat Mayor Joe Savikataaq Jr. said. "It's a very small price to pay in order to get herd immunity here, in case we get a second wave."

There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, where 266 cases have been confirmed to date.

Since a COVID-19 outbreak began in early November, Arviat has seen 222 cases in total, including one reported death.

All other residents have recovered, but health officials are still monitoring the community.

Submitted by Helen-Rose England
Submitted by Helen-Rose England

A charter plane carrying doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in Arviat on Wednesday. The by-appointment clinic is being held from Thursday to Saturday and again on Monday at the town's community centre, where 10 nurses will be on hand to vaccinate residents.

"It's the day that we all have been waiting for here in Arviat," Savikataaq said.

There will be a walk-in clinic on Saturday.

The municipal draw for cash prizes is to take place on Jan. 19, the day after vaccinations end, and will be announced live on the community's local radio station and on Facebook.

In a government press conference Thursday, Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said it's not uncommon for financial incentives to be given to patients undergoing "arduous treatment" in Nunavut or elsewhere in Canada. He said this is often done for people undergoing multiple rounds of treatment for tuberculosis.

Patterson stressed it was a project run through the municipality, and not by the Department of Health.

"Each community has the right and the need to do what they think is correct and it's not my place to dictate on their decisions or actions," he said.

Vaccination clinics in 4 communities this week

Arviat is one of four Nunavut communities where clinics are being held this week. Cambridge Bay, Igloolik and Gjoa Haven are also part of the first clinics. Vaccines have been given out in Iqaluit, Nunavut's capital, to residents of long-term care homes and their staff.

As of Tuesday, the territory was reporting that about 400 people had received a first-round dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Because Nunavut is a northern and remote region with a primarily Indigenous population, its residents fall into a national priority group for COVID-19 vaccination.

By the end of March, territorial health officials expect to have vaccinated up to 75 per cent of the adult population, or roughly 19,000 people.

Communities are currently dispensing vaccines from a stock of 6,000 doses that arrived in late December. Another 12,000 doses are expected to arrive by mid-February.

In Arviat, a lockdown was lifted on Tuesday, and travel is now allowed in and out of the community, but public health restrictions remain strict.

During the more than two months of lockdown faced by the community, Savikataaq said, children were born whose grandparents hadn't been able to see them until this week.

He said the vaccines will bring relief to the community.

"It's a very good safety measure that everyone is about to receive, and that's a step closer toward freedom," he said.

Submitted by Helen-Rose England
Submitted by Helen-Rose England

For Indigenous communities, vaccine hesitancy follows past trauma

Nunavut government officials have been speaking out this week against vaccine hesitancy.

"We know that there's concern, lots of questions, misinformation and outright lies," Patterson said. "We want to ensure we get as much accurate information out as possible, and that as many people as possible get the vaccine."

While vaccination is being prioritized for Indigenous communities throughout Canada, there are reasons for mistrust, from past experiences in health services both presently and historically.

In an interview with CBC's Canada Tonight, the executive director of the Anishnawbe Health Clinic in Toronto, Joe Hester, said experiences of residential school and other past traumas with travelling for medical as well as involuntary medical experiments, all contribute to why Indigenous people are hesitant to get vaccinated. The clinic administered vaccines this week to Indigenous elders.

Hester says although there is a "natural hesitancy for anybody to get something sharp poked into their arms," he says past traumas in Canadian health systems have "remained in the minds and hearts of our people," and have been "a part of the communication through generations."

But the messaging from Nunavut health officials is, getting vaccinated is a form of community service.

For anyone who wants the vaccine, but feels like they would rather wait until later, Nunavut's Health Minister Lorne Kusugak says — don't.

"If that's all you're waiting for is to see what is going to happen with your neighbour who has been vaccinated, you might have to wait longer than a week or two," he said Thursday, adding that it's not a sure thing that there will be vaccines left behind at health centres when clinics are over. "If your wish is to get vaccinated, when the vaccination team is in your community is the time to get it."