While Canada often looks to places like the UK and Israel to monitor the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, experts say data at home also provide similar insights.
Between 10 and 16 January, 4,866 active COVID-19 cases were reported in First Nations communities. After almost four months, the number has come down to 739 between 25 April and 1 May.
The drop in cases is being attributed to what experts are calling a successful vaccine rollout.
“This is the same kind of decline you’ve seen in deaths in long-term care homes, where most of the people early in the epidemic were elderly people in long-term care,” Dr. Anna Banerjee, Faculty of Infectious Diseases Medical at Temperty and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, explained.
“Once they were vaccinated, you see the rate of hospitalization and death. Therefore vaccines have worked in indigenous communities. “
Since mid-January, health professionals have administered more than 233,232 vaccine doses in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.
Dr. Lisa Richardson is one of several health care professionals who have traveled north to operate hundreds of vaccines, with more than 90 percent of adults who were shot eligible. She boarded a flight from Toronto to Sioux Lookout, and from there, she and her team took a one-hour plane ride from remote communities, over a period of four days.
The Strategic Head of Indigenous Health at the Women’s College Hospital, Drs. Lisa Richardson said, “We know from the numbers that we have some new active cases across Canada, because of how effective the vaccine rollout has been.”
“We really need to accept and uplift the good story of what has happened among the First Nations in Canada, because we are used to hearing the negative.”
First Nations members receive a COVID-19 vaccine
Public health measures continue across Canada. Banerjee, who is also a pediatrician, said that travel restrictions were also in some northern communities.
“Diabetes nurses, dentists or other mental health workers could not go into the community, so many people were not taken care of by their health needs,” he explained.
“Then those things started breaking down. You saw massive outbreaks in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta where many people were ill and some died. “
Prior to the rollout, Banerjee said that the ICUs in Winnipeg were full of First Nation people.
In Alberta and Saskatchewan, infection rates and hospitalizations were also “spreading like wildfire”, but Banerjee said vaccination had made a huge change. There were fewer ICU admissions as more shots were administered and cases began to decrease.
“In this situation, we have saved from destruction in many places,” Banerjee explained. “It is time to recognize that there are risks and priorities for future vaccine interventions. But together with the community and leaders. “
“Communities know what communities want”
First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities have been identified as Phase 1 priority groups in the vaccine rollout, partly because during H1N1 pandemic;
There are many factors that leave some populations vulnerable.
“We know that historically they are at risk,” Banerjee said.
“Chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure are high levels of risk factors for COVID. We know that many indigenous communities, especially remote communities, live in crowded conditions, so that if a person becomes ill, it spreads quickly. “
Additionally, if patients require life support, this can lead to further complications and delays in receiving healthcare. If the weather is not cooperating, Banerjee took hours or days to wait for the air ambulance.
That is why she was one of the many advocates for indigenous communities, especially those reserved for COVID-19 vaccines on a priority basis. There were frequent meetings with elders, chiefs, experts and leaders to ensure the voices of the communities.
For vaccinations in remote areas, Drs. Richardson said a partnership was formed between governments in northwestern Ontario, the provinces, leaders in communities, and air ambulance service, which played a key role in transporting vaccines to healthcare professionals and regions.
“[This was done] Richardson said that to ensure that what has happened in the community is done in a really good way, so that the needs of the indigenous people are met.
“While many of us were in the form of vaccines or as health care leaders bringing our expertise from medicine and health, in fact I would say that expertise was on the ground from leaders who knew members of their community.
“They knew families, they knew where people lived, and they knew how eager those people were to get vaccinated.”
According to Richardson, this has yielded incredible results – the largest measurable result to date is the decreasing rate of COVID-19 on reserves. Last week, 72 cases were reported in Canada.
“It’s a different population, but it’s a group that had a much higher rate of H1N1,” she said. “This is an amazing story.”
A key route for Richardson is the grassroots approach that was taken to reach more people to the vaccines.
The initiative was led by indigenous groups and leaders who were involved in developing a strategy to vaccinate people, where clinics would be set up, work with healthcare providers, who would be giving shots and educational materials to communities Will provide .
“Communities know what communities want. Each place is different, so you need indigenous providers and leaders to lead this work, ”explained Richardson.
“That doesn’t mean they do all the heavy lifting and delivery of vaccines and I love about some of the examples I get. You have indigenous organizations and leaders who guide, lead and establish strategy and vision And you have partners who are bringing that vision to life and making it real. “
Both experts said this is an important story that needs to be highlighted and celebrated, especially since Richardson mentioned, Canadians are not used to hearing about the strength and resilience of indigenous people.
“If we can get vaccinated in remote First Nations, where people are still living with many structural barriers to health, such as poor housing and in many cases poor access to clean water, then we do so across Canada can do.”
“When we see what we do, we see matters coming down. This is a story of hope in communities where we do not usually look for guidance and hope. I really want us to reverse the way we think about our people. “
At the end of last year, as Canada and the US awaited the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, concerns about potential vaccine inhibition increased in some communities.
Indigenous and black communities often deal with racism and abuse in health care and experts knew that building trust and dispelling myths was important to provide clear and transparent information to those who needed it.
“Being indigenous leaders on the decision-making step and advocating the vaccine, having clear and transparent communication in vaccinating the community members was important,” Banerjee explained.
Despite hesitation concerns, there have been endless lineups at pop-up clinics around the Greater Toronto Area where, in many cases, demand has been higher than supply. Of the hundreds, Richardson said most chose to take the shot and only a few chose not to.
“They have really strong and important reasons why they didn’t do it,” she said. “We had amazing conversations with people who were concerned and had good scientific information in a way that was accessible.”
In a northbound rollout, Richardson said that information about the vaccine and vaccine is readily available to any community member who wanted or needed it, with health professionals and experts set up in reliable locations and environments.
“I didn’t really face hesitation, I faced gratitude,” she said. “When we look at the conversation around hesitancy, we need to dismiss it completely. We need to understand what the obstacles are. “