Canadian First Nations communities are beginning to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through provincial immunisation programs.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has already been administered through Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council to six of the 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island.

By employing nurses within communities, the Council is ensuring cultural safety and familiarity during vaccination.

Mariah Charleson, Vice President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said health officials must work alongside community to ensure culturally safe and appropriate delivery of the vaccine.

“There are many people in our communities who our nurses may not have ever seen, because [they] will just never go for help,” Charleson told Canadian Press.

According to a November 2020 report, Addressing Racism in BC Health, over 84 per cent of Indigenous people in Canada experience some form of health care discrimination.

Charleson identified this as a primary reason for Indigenous people’s hesitation to receive medical care. However, she encourages her community to be proactive.

“If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for the Elders in the community and the vulnerable.”

Ehattesaht First Nation Chief Simon John noted reluctancy around the vaccination within the Ehatis Reserve community who reside on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

A COVID-19 outbreak in December saw 28 people within the community of 100 contract the virus.

When the vaccine became available, John rolled up his sleeves to encourage his community.

“For us, as council, to take it first was our priority,” he said.

Canada has dedicated 25,000 doses of the vaccine to vulnerable members of First Nations communities as Indigenous Services Canada confirmed 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in the first week of January.

With these cases including over 3,000 active infections, almost 500 hospitalisations and 95 deaths, the dedicated doses are to be administered before the end of February.

By Rachael Knowles