A First Nation on Vancouver Island is wondering why it’s still awaiting first vaccines for many of its on-reserve members when other First Nations have been vaccinated.
The Tla-o-qui-aht community, a First Nation near Tofino with approximately 1,400 members, is also questioning why on-reserve members have been prioritized when off-reserve members have not.
The elders, those with compromised immune systems and front-line workers living on the reserve have been vaccinated but all other members are waiting.
“We do have a lot of happy and satisfied community members that did get the vaccine and on the other hand we’re facing those that are still in the community that haven’t been vaccinated,” said Elmer Frank, who is in charge of Tla-o-qui-aht’s pandemic response.
Earlier this month Canada’s Indigenous Services Minister said he expects most Indigenous adults to be vaccinated before the rest of the population, but Frank wonders if that’s actually going to happen on Vancouver Island.
He says 60 per cent of the First Nation’s members live off-reserve and have not been offered vaccinations.
“They should’ve been a little more honest and more precise about their messaging that First Nations are a priority,” said Frank.
“We have an aspiration that we’re including all of our members, even off-reserve. Unfortunately, the way that the rollout has been they’re only honouring the reserve system,” said Frank.
Island Health is suggesting, however, that there may soon be vaccinations for First Nations living off-reserve.
“Active discussions are ongoing in terms of if we take a whole community approach we need to look beyond the boundaries of reserves in a number of urban instances. That’s not the case for our more rural and remote reserves,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for Island Health.
The First Nations Health Authority says it’s prioritizing sending vaccinations to remote communities with larger numbers of COVID-19 cases, but adds it’s promoting a whole community approach that would see everyone over 18 years old offered immunizations.
Tla-o-qui-aht has no positive COVID-19 cases currently but with variants on Vancouver Island and positive cases in Tofino’s non-indigenous community, a lot of concerns remain.
“We all have to visit the same store. We don’t have any other alternatives to look at another grocery store to be able to visit,” said Frank.
The Tla-o-qui-aht are hoping to bypass the alarming outbreaks suffered by other Vancouver Island first nations such as Cowichan Tribes and the Snuneymuxw First Nation.