COVID-19 outbreak in B.C. Indigenous community fuels concerns over waning protective benefits of vaccines

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The Far BC Community of the Maktusis, The home of Ahausahat Nation, has been in lockdown for two weeks due to COVID-19. Schools have been closed, non-essential travel from the community has been restricted, and families have been told not to mix with other households.

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Unlike many Indigenous communities in British Columbia, where vaccination rates are lower than the provincial average, Ahousahat enthusiastically welcomed a team of public-health nurses who arrived with Moderna Vaccine on January 6. The outbreak adds to growing concerns that the protective benefits of vaccines may be diminished.

The village, which is a half-hour boat ride north of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island, had already experienced a COVID-19 outbreak that prompted a lockdown in November of 2020. Once vaccines are available, Both its elected and hereditary leadership showed their support for the rollout.

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Ahousahat’s chief councilor Greg Louis helped set the tone by being first in line to receive his vaccine. He says that 92 percent of eligible community members got their first shot during that January clinic, after public-health officials ran information sessions. Most residents returned for their second shot four weeks later. (The province later increased the recommended interval based on clinical trials, which concluded that receiving a second dose six to eight weeks after the first dose may provide stronger protection.)

Now, eight months later, First Nations health officials are concerned that the protection offered by the vaccine is fading, as the more dangerous Delta variant continues to spread. Since 4 September, more than 50 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Maaqtusiis, involving five families, with additional cases reserved among non-cohabited members. Details of how many cases required hospitalization were not provided.

Dr. Shannon McDonald, Acting Chief Medical Officer of the Provincial First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), said, “We have seen higher rates of COVID among fully vaccinated individuals – than rates among the general BC population. three times more.”

“First Nations are over-represented in both active cases and hospitalizations, and a higher proportion of First Nations individuals require hospitalization than other residents of BC”

According to the FNHA, Indigenous people in British Columbia are significantly more likely to be affected by COVID-19 than the rest of the population. First Nations make up about 3.3 percent of the population, but they provincially account for about 18 percent of hospitalizations. Factors include overcrowded living conditions and inadequate access to health care, which is why the remote and rural First Nations community was an early priority in the province’s vaccine effort.

Rising COVID-19 cases and low vaccination rates among indigenous peoples prompted Indian chiefs of British Columbia on Thursday to issue what it called “an urgent and important call” for First Nations to take their full COVID-19 cases. Get -19 vaccinations right away.

According to the FNHA, 75 percent of First Nations people in BC who are 12 years of age and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 88 percent for the rest of the province. As with the wider population, most Indigenous individuals who end up in hospital have not been vaccinated, but there are still cases in which fully vaccinated.

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Dr. McDonald says the evidence supports a third round of vaccines for Indigenous communities, but his agency needs approval from both federal and provincial governments. The province has recognized the need for a booster in some cases, but has so far only approved a third dose for people who are in long-term care and assisted homes, as well as for individuals who have compromised immunity. Huh.

“It is very clear from our provincial surveillance teams covering First Nations that we have been able to establish the need for a third dose, especially among some of our elderly people,” Dr McDonald said in the interview. “But why stop there? Do we have a vaccine available? Apparently we do.”

On October 5, Dr. McDonald met with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to advocate for access to more vaccines. That same day, the province announced it was returning 300,000 doses of the vaccine to the federal government — mostly Moderna, which is preferred in small, rural clinics in First Nation communities because it is easier to transport than the Pfizer vaccine.

In a written statement, Dr. Henry said she is working with Dr. McDonald to review data surrounding vaccine efficiency for all ages and populations to determine whether First Nation elderly, vulnerable individuals and may or may not require a booster dose. First Nations Community. We will ensure that the vaccine is available as soon as this decision is made.”

Dr. McDonald said some of the reasons for the low vaccine rates among indigenous peoples in BC are deeper.

“There is a layer of mistrust of the government. I am repeatedly asked, ‘Are they just experimenting on us?’ She said. Aboriginal children in six residential schools in Canada were the subject of highly unethical nutrition experiments between 1942 and 1952.

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Furthermore, according to a report last November, Indigenous people are reluctant to seek health care because of systemic racism. The report identified widespread, Indigenous-specific stereotypes, racism and discrimination in British Columbia’s health care system.

Also the result of misinformation being shared through social media is that some communities are not safe from the virus. “We have some communities right now that are actively in outbreaks, where the vaccination rate for the second dose is between 40 and 50 percent,” said Dr. McDonald.

But those with high vaccination rates are also at risk, she said. She wants vaccine teams gearing up to return to the province’s more than 200 First Nations communities to offer the first, second or third dose as needed, ideally at the same time that seasonal flu vaccines are distributed.

Mr. Louis said he also looks forward to a return to health care workers with higher doses, especially for children between the ages of five and 11, once vaccines for that age group are approved by Health Canada. Is given. In the meantime, his community has put in place strict isolation measures, which are wearing tough. “We are a small, close-knit social community,” he said.

While Band Council is helping facilitate grocery delivery, there is limited selection and most families rely on regular trips to Tofino or Port Alberni for supplies. But the strict rules are giving the expected results. In an October 3 update, the band council reported only three active cases in the community, with 48 people recovering.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our BC and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing you with a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. .

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