There was an air of relief for the Shxw’Ow’Hamel First Nation as they received and distributed about 80 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Jan. 18.
Rural and remote First Nations communities are among the top priority groups for receiving the vaccine, with doses expected to be distributed in 60 First Nations communities by this week.
“I think the community has been looking forward to the vaccine rolling out,” said Sally Hope, emergency operations coordinator for the Shxw’Ow’Hamel First Nation. “There’s excitement in the air.”
That excitement doesn’t come without its share of apprehension; chief administrative officer Shane James said a number of community members remain skeptical of the vaccine, at least partially due to information distributed via social media. James said there were about 15 to 20 eligible people on reserve who did not get the vaccine.
“There were concerns; I myself had concerns about getting it,” James said. To help spread information that the vaccine is indeed safe, James livestreamed himself on Facebook as he received the vaccine and plans to do an update video.
“Hopefully [documenting this] helps some individuals change their mind about the vaccine and opt in to get it and not feel so concerned about it,” he added.
Aside from soreness in his arm and some fatigue, James said he felt fine the day after receiving the vaccine.
”[On Monday], I felt a 5 per cent feeling that ‘I think I’m gonna get the flu,’ but it went away,” James said. “I felt a little tired. I felt like I wanted to go to sleep right away, but I got some fresh air [and that helped]. Today, it’s a little sore.”
James said Shxw’Ow’Hamel staff members are phoning those who have been vaccinated to check on symptoms and side effects.
James said those who do not live on reserve are considered part of the general population and are not given the same priority as on-reserve residents.
The complexity of dose storage, getting the vaccine to the right people and ensuring the public gives educated consent prior to receiving the vaccine on top of maintaining COVID protocols throughout makes this vaccine administration among the most unique problems Fraser Health and First Nations Health Authority has faced in a lifetime.
“This isn’t like any other clinics we’ve ever had in the past,” Hope said.
Challenges aside, the clinic seemed to move without a hitch.
“This is probably the third or fourth clinic [FNHA and Fraser Health] has done around here, and they’re really getting to be good at it. Our hands go up to them,” Hope said..
James said the community had extra doses of the vaccine at the end of the day.
“We found out that some of the FNHA and Fraser Health staff haven’t had their vaccines, so we opted to ensure that…we gave them the vaccine,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, the Shxw’Ow’Hamel First Nation has been closed to visitors since March, not even allowing visitors related to those living on reserve. They briefly lifted restrictions once numbers started to go down, but entry is strictly limited once again.
James said the second dose of the Moderna vaccine is expected to reach Shxw’Ow’Hamel in the next three to four weeks.