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COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Indigenous people in urban Calgary area opening Monday

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A unique vaccination clinic will be opening in Calgary on Monday, offering COVID-19 shots to Indigenous elders living in the urban area.

The clinic is located in the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary, which many Indigenous people in the city already trust and turn to for other health and community needs.

Indigenous artwork is seen in a COVID-19 vaccination clinic set to open at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary on Monday. Global News

According to Beth Woytas, a registered nurse and director of programs for OKAKI, the hope is the clinic will offer a safe, comfortable place for Indigenous people to get their shot, where they may otherwise be hesitant to go to an AHS vaccination clinic, and can’t travel to clinics on reserves.

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“This is a population that may not traditionally access health services because of socio-economic barriers, because of systemic racism, so we’ve set up a safe, culturally appropriate clinic,” she said.

“There’s Indigenous people on staff, people that they’re familiar with, in a facility that they would traditionally come and access for services anyways.”

Each room has Indigenous art on the walls, as well as flags that were blessed by elders during a launch ceremony on Friday.

Read more: ‘There is a lot of mistrust’: Researchers look at vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous Canadians

“They’re also doing something special where they’re going to provide each senior with a bagged lunch on their way out the door as a little treat,” Woytas said.

“Food is something that’s very important to the Indigenous culture because it welcomes them in, so we’re adding those extra little pieces and touches that are culturally relevant and culturally important to the Indigenous people.”

Indigenous artwork is seen in a COVID-19 vaccination clinic set to open at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary on Monday. Global News

Earnie Poundmaker, who works at the centre, said there have been a lot of barriers to senior Indigenous people living in the city when it comes to accessing vaccines, including language barriers and feelings of fear and mistrust in the health-care system.

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He believes having a clinic dedicated to Indigenous people will help to ease those tensions and ensure people who otherwise wouldn’t have been immunized sign up for a shot.

“I think it goes a long way because first of all, they’re coming into an Indigenous setting,” he said. “That’s going to present a sense of security, a sense of welcome for them.

“Once you begin speaking with people and relaying some of those fears that people have, they’re more open and accepting to it.”

Beth Woytas and Earnie Poundmaker chat inside a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Indigenous people living in and around Calgary. Global News

Starting 10 a.m. Monday, the clinic, which was set up over the past couple weeks in partnership with AHS and other agencies, will be administering first doses of the Moderna vaccine to Indigenous people 65 and older.

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Right now, the clinic is expecting to be open for four weeks, and expects to give 20 to 22 shots each day, for a total of about 400 people over the timespan.

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However, Woytas is hopeful there will be a good uptake in the program, and that it will be able to stay open to ensure the continuity of care for the seniors, and provide second doses too.

The clinic is the first of its kind in Alberta.

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