The First Nations Health Authority is seeing reasons to be optimistic as active cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Indigenous communities have declined in recent weeks.
During a press conference on Tuesday morning, the health authority’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shannon McDonald noted that although several communities still have significant clusters of the virus, many of them are showing signs of improvement.
The recent drop in active case numbers comes following a COVID-19 surge in Indigenous communities during the month of January.
According to McDonald, active cases surpassed the 1000 mark in January, but have dropped back down to 426 as of Feb. 12. McDonald notes that of the 426 active cases, 185 are among those living on reserves.
“Sadly, we have suffered many losses,” McDonald noted on Tuesday.
Despite seeing a decline in numbers, the FNHA has concerns about new COVID-19 variants reaching their communities. British Columbia has seen several cases of virus variants that originated in the U.K., South Africa, and Nigeria, however, none of the new variants have been identified in Indigenous communities within the province at this time.
Additionally, First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) says that due Canada’s vaccine shortage, they haven’t been able to fully reach their immunization goals at this time. McDonald’s said, however, that the authority has “used every single dose” they’ve received to vaccinate “as many people as possible.”
As of Tuesday, the FNHA indicated that nearly 16,000 people have been vaccinated in more than 90 of B.C.’s Indigenous communities. Doses are expected to reach approximately a dozen more communities soon, according to the health authority.
On Vancouver Island, officials say that over 4,000 vaccinations have been administered to members of Indigenous communities as well.
Phase One of the FNHA vaccination strategy was to immunize areas experiencing outbreaks as well as remote and isolated Indigenous communities first.
Looking forward, the First Nations Health Authority hopes to have all First Nations communities vaccinated by the end of March.
Katie Hughes, the health authority’s vice-president focused on public health says the province has assured them the goal of delivering vaccines to all B.C. First Nations by the end of March is still possible, but that could be impacted by future unpredicted shortages.
Hughes says about 42,000 first doses are required to vaccinate everyone living in First Nations communities and, in order to meet the target, they’ll have to use more of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in addition to Moderna’s – a vaccine that is more easily transported to remote areas based on the fact it doesn’t have to be kept as cold.
The health authority still has “a high degree of confidence” that they’ll be able to meet the end-of-March target.