Sask.'s far north east speeds through its vaccine doses

·2 min read

A first batch of COVID-19 vaccinations has swept the far north east.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) Chief Peter Beatty said as of Tuesday, the First Nation was set to finish getting shots into members' arms less than a week after receiving its first doses.

Despite a delay that concerned some leaders, "we've vaccinated as many people as we possibly could," he said.

The region, which received 1,450 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine late last week, is slated to use the entire batch in short order. As of Tuesday, 1,193 doses had been distributed in the far north east, according to the Ministry of Health.

Beatty attributed the progress to PBCN's health staff, who had prior experience delivering vaccinations. At the same time, he said the First Nation has spread information over local radio stations and social media, addressing some residents' vaccine hesitancy.

"There's a lot of misinformation online, stuff that's not true," he said. "We were giving them the proper information."

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson also claimed success. After receiving 390 doses, she said health staff worked through the weekend to administer them in the First Nation's communities. However, one LLRIB community, Little Red River, is located in a separate region and hasn't yet received vaccines, she said.

The far northeast is grappling with some of the highest case loads in the province. As of Tuesday, the region had 454 active cases, according to the ministry.

Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority medical health officer Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka said those high case numbers may reflect challenges in areas like inadequate and overcrowded housing.

Ndubuka said the region's quick vaccine distribution is a reflection of joint planning between First Nations and municipalities. Historically, northern communities also have relatively high vaccination rates, leaving systems in place to get doses into residents' arms, he said.

To speed that effort last week, Cook-Searson and other leaders in the north east pushed the provincial government over a lack of vaccine deliveries to their region. La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushniak said that pressure — which from himself, Cook-Searson and the mayor of Air Ronge to the Ministry of Health — helped the region get its doses shortly after.

"It takes pressure sometimes to get answers," Ratushniak said, also crediting health workers on the speedy rollout.

"We do get overlooked a lot in the north. A lot of those decisions are made by officials in the south and they don't have to walk the walk we do every day."

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix