Care residents, health-care workers receive first doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Siksika Nation

The first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were distributed to residents and staff at a care facility on the Siksika First Nation in southern Alberta on Friday.

Siksika Nation, which is about 100 kilometres east of Calgary, received its first 100-dose shipment of the vaccine on Thursday, and announced in a same-day press release that it planned to begin immunizing residents and staff at the Siksika Elders Lodge on New Year’s Day.

The lodge’s oldest resident, Virginia Medicine Traveller, 94, was the first to receive the vaccine, Siksika Health Services (SHS) said on Friday.

Representatives with SHS said securing access to the vaccine was an essential part of protecting the nation’s most vulnerable and at-risk citizens.

“Having comprehensive local health services to support our COVID-19 response has been a top priority of our organization from day one; local access to the COVID-19 vaccine is a hopeful next step in this regard,” Naa Taoyi Piita Wo Taan, Tyler White, corporate executive officer of SHS, was quoted as saying.

“It has not been easy and I commend our health services team for our collective and tireless work in providing necessary services, all the while advocating for equitable access for our Nation members.”

A staged roll-out of the vaccine will be continued for priority groups in the near future, SHS said.

Most vulnerable prioritized

Canada’s Indigenous communities have been recognized as a priority population for COVID-19 immunization by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

The care facility for Siksika elders was among those prioritized by the province to receive the vaccine as it provides continuing care for seniors.

“We are pleased to see that a safe and effective vaccine has been developed so quickly and made available to our most vulnerable nation members and their care providers,” Nioksskaistamik Ouray Crowfoot, chief of Siksika First Nation, was quoted as saying earlier this week.

“Our health services continue to plan for a staged roll-out of additional vaccine to other priority groups in the near future.”

Premier Jason Kenney said that the first shipment of the Moderna vaccine arrived in Alberta on Tuesday, and would be given as quickly as possible to residents and staff in long-term care centres.

The initial 16,900 doses were to be sent to long-term care facilities in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, St. Paul, Fort Saskatchewan and six congregate living facilities on First Nations.

The first dose was given to a resident of the Riverview Care Centre in Medicine Hat on Wednesday.

Siksika currently at ‘high risk’ of transmission

There are approximately 7,500 members living on Siksika First Nation, according to its website.

As of Dec. 29, there were 12 active cases of COVID-19 at Siksika. A total of 323 cases have been reported on the First Nation.

Its current transmission risk level is “red,” or high-risk, according to the Nation’s health services website. 

In July, the First Nation instituted a curfew after 10 cases were reported in the community. 

In November, the First Nation also closed all of its schools and its homeless shelter after COVID-19 cases within the community jumped from zero to more than a dozen in just a few days.

Last summer, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, praised Siksika leadership for acting proactively and transparently to control the spread. 

She also spoke out against discrimination, after reports that some First Nation members were being turned away from local businesses due to cases in the community.

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