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B.C. First Nation hit hard by COVID-19 begins mass vaccination of all adults

Click to play video: 'Cowichan Tribes records 4th COVID-19-related death' Cowichan Tribes records 4th COVID-19-related death
The Cowichan Tribes First Nation in Duncan had staved off the virus until this year but as Kylie Stanton reports, it has recorded four COVID-related deaths since December 31st and is now learning its second vaccination rollout will be delayed – Feb 23, 2021

Hundreds of members of the Cowichan Tribes First Nation on Vancouver Island lined up Friday and Saturday to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as the community began mass vaccination of adults.

The Cowichan Tribes, with around 4,900 members, describes itself as B.C.’s largest First Nation. It has also been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, with at least 240 cases recorded since Dec. 31, and four deaths — several of them described as “young adults.”

Read more: Cowichan Tribes record 4th death from COVID-19 as members battle outbreak

A shelter-in-place order for the community was extended until March 5 earlier this month.

Marnie Elliott, acting health director for Ts’ewulhtun Health Centre, said being able to roll out a mass vaccination campaign so early was “a complete surprise, and an amazing one.”

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The Cowichan Tribes initially opened vaccinations to anyone over the age of 60 Friday morning, but by late morning had opened the eligibility to members or people who lived with a member that were over the age of 18.

Click to play video: 'Cowichan Tribes battles COVID outbreak' Cowichan Tribes battles COVID outbreak
Cowichan Tribes battles COVID outbreak – Feb 23, 2021

“It’s not just about them individually, this is for our whole entire community, so we talk a lot about our parents, our grandparents, the elders in our community,” she said.

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“This is really about each and every one of us, not just our individual self.”

Elliott said the community hoped to administer close to 900 doses of the vaccine by the end of Saturday, with a third clinic day planned for Sunday.

Read more: Two ‘young adults’ died of COVID-19 over the weekend, says Cowichan Tribes chief

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Elders who received vaccine at an earlier date will be able to return for second doses on March 3 and 4.

“(You) can’t even feel it going in, those people are pretty good at it — if you don’t look you don’t even know you’re getting it,” Cowichan Tribes member Hank Williams said.

Click to play video: 'Cowichan Tribes reports death of two ‘young adults’ from COVID-19' Cowichan Tribes reports death of two ‘young adults’ from COVID-19
Cowichan Tribes reports death of two ‘young adults’ from COVID-19 – Feb 18, 2021

“It feels like it’s important because of my age. I have quite a few grandchildren coming and going from my place, and they go to school. You know, for my own protection.”

Bradley Sylvester echoed that sentiment.

“We’ve got little ones at home, so we feel it will be safe for them now,” he said.

READ MORE: B.C.’s top doctor agrees to give more COVID-19 case information to First Nations

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“I recommend (others) get their shots if they want to keep COVID-19 under control, and keep others safe — their family members, people they love, their friends.”

While B.C.’s immunization plan is built primarily around age, it also prioritizes certain at-risk groups, including First Nations.

Remote and isolated Indigenous communities were included in the first phase of the rollout from December to February, and Indigenous seniors were included in Phase 2 which runs until March.

Elliott said the early rollout of vaccine in the community won’t change the expectation that members continue to mask up, follow physical distancing protocols and avoid social gatherings.

“This is just another tool to keep our community safe,” she said.

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