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Coronavirus: Cowessess First Nation navigates vaccine hesitancy during reserve’s rollout

Click to play video: 'Cowessess First Nation navigates vaccine hesitancy during reserve’s rollout' Cowessess First Nation navigates vaccine hesitancy during reserve’s rollout
WATCH: A southern Saskatchewan first nation is navigating the complications of the coronavirus vaccine rollout and hesitancy among some members after a quarter of people being offered the shot turn it down – Feb 17, 2021

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme says there’s been “overwhelming acceptance” of coronavirus vaccines in his community, but added that some members are hesitant about it.

One in every four people being contacted and offered immunization is refusing, Delorme, who has been contacting them to try and better understand why, told Global News Tuesday.

“It’s just the trust between First Nations and the health delivery over the last five, six decades,” he said. “You don’t have to go far to watch the news today and see how racism is real in the health delivery.”

Read more: Advocates call for targeted approach to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Canada

Given the risks COVID-19 poses to vulnerable populations, Canada, which oversees Indigenous health care, has prioritized First Nations and other communities for immunization.

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To date, Cowessess has received and administered 130 Moderna vaccines and 30 Pfizer vaccines to on-reserve members over the age of 50 and some others who are immunocompromised.

The first shipment, from Moderna, arrived on Jan. 22, with 10 doses per vial.

The chief said the community’s immunization task force made sure there were 10 people ready and willing to receive the vaccine before opening each one.

When the Pfizer doses came a few weeks later, Delorme said there was effort to double back around and offer those who had refused another shot.

“When they declined, we just went to the next name,” said the chief, noting leadership is providing daily updates about COVID-19, including the immunization rollout, in the community on Facebook.

Read more: Some Ontario PSWs hesitant to get COVID-19 vaccine, experts say targeted approach needed

Twice now, the posts have addressed vaccine hesitancy issues, recognizing “the human right to say no,” in one made on Feb. 8.

Cowessess is working with the Indigenous-led health research lab, Morning Star Lodge, to try to get community members’ questions about vaccines answered.

“They have presented some sheets for us that define and better explain the data in regards to the reality of the vaccine — that it’s not much of a worry. It’s a very low risk,” Delorme said.

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“We just want to make that people are saying no based on facts, not on what Facebook is saying, not on what someone in the family has found on media or something that doesn’t have data related to it.”

Click to play video: 'Easing fears around the COVID-19 vaccine' Easing fears around the COVID-19 vaccine
Easing fears around the COVID-19 vaccine – Dec 17, 2020

University of Regina health studies professor Elizabeth Cooper has been researching vaccine hesitancy and hesitancy among many First Nations people when it comes to the broader health care system.

“When we’ve had a history of disputing: Should we or should we not give health care? Should we or should we not provide supports? Should we or should we not recognize people’s autonomy to make their own choices and to dictate what they can and can’t have and when we have a history of testing on people,” she said.

“When we say, ‘Hey, look, but you’re a priority group now, you should get this, we’ve made this available for you’ —  there are going to be issues.”

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Cooper said its important to build trust in a meaningful way that gives people a reason to believe the information they’re being provided with is in their best interest.

“We can’t just look at one thing in isolation,” she said, adding longstanding rocky relationships, combined with widespread misinformation and a lack of access to correct information. all play into situations like the one Cowessess is currently being forced to navigate.

Cooper noted vaccine hesitancy does not equate to the denial of vaccine efficacy, nor does it mean those refusing shots now will refuse them later.

Delorme said in general, COVID-19 immunization is confusing. The supply chain management has been confusing and the constantly changing plans that have resulted are confusing.

It has made things challenging for leadership on the reserve, he said, noting he will continue to advocate for what’s best for his community and its people.

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