Indigenous-focused COVID clinic helping improve vaccine uptake among off-reserve residents

A vaccine clinic is providing hundreds of city-dwelling Indigenous people with COVID-19 shots in a place where they can feel safe and welcomed.

The clinic, set up inside the Best Western Premier in northeast Calgary, includes Indigenous greeters and staff, as well as displays of local Indigenous history and artifacts.

It’s designed to be a safe space to increase the numbers of urban Indigenous people getting vaccinated.

It runs for eight days and involves partnerships between several Indigenous organizations in the city.

This specialized immunization clinic in Calgary is hoping to boost the number of Indigenous vaccinations in the city by providing a safe space. 1:33

“This clinic is all about the power of partnerships,” said Beth Woytas, director of clinical operations at the clinic.

“We have a number of different organizations coming together and it’s an Indigenous-led clinic led by the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary,” said Woytas.

That list of partners includes Siksika Health Services, Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society and Okaki.

Six groups of health professionals, including doctors, pharmacists, nurses and dentists, will deliver as many doses as they can in an eight-day period, ending April 23.

“We’re providing a culturally safe environment. People greeting and providing information and addressing vaccine hesitancy, which is common in this population,” she said.

The lobby of the building is decked out with Indigenous art and displays of old photos. A teepee is set up in the parking lot, while volunteers guide cars in and out.

A doctor gets ready to administer his first Moderna vaccine shot of the day. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“Every afternoon, we start with a smudge,” said Melissa Roy, director of operations with the Aboriginal Friendship Centre.

Roy says it’s an opportunity to improve and restore trust within the health-care system. She says it ties in with the theme of reconciliation.

“We have Indigenous families, mixed families, some homeless individuals — it’s a wide range,” said Roy.

“It’s wonderful seeing our brothers and sisters waving, smiling and thanking us as they leave,” she said.

A group of youth from the Siksika Nation travelled to Calgary to help organize parking and make people feel welcome. 

“It’s heartwarming to see all the Indigenous people coming here,” said Sayder Duckchief, part of a Siksika youth organization called SN7. 

Siksika youth volunteer Sayder Duckchief says it’s important for Indigenous people to feel safe and welcomed. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“They’re here for their own safety and their family’s safety and their friends’, and that’s something we need within the Indigenous community,” said Duckchief.

He says there are many places where Indigenous people are made to feel uncomfortable and a safe space is important.

“They’re getting a vaccine at the end of the day, so it’s all worth it,” he said.

It’s hoped up to 1,900 people will be immunized with the Moderna vaccine by the time the clinic ends.

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