Sask. NDP launching radio campaign to boost low vaccination rates in north

Two Saskatchewan NDP MLAs will be launching a radio campaign on Monday in an effort to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and boost vaccine rates in the north.

An NDP news release sent Friday said Athabasca MLA Buckley Belanger and Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette are particularly concerned about first dose vaccination rates in their ridings.

Read more: Surveys point to Saskatchewan COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

Belanger blamed the Saskatchewan government for missing the low rates in the north.

“They’ve completely written us off,” Belanger said in a press release.

“A lot of folks up here are extremely dependent on community. The way this virus works, we know that folks in the north are especially vulnerable. This government should have prioritized a strategy to get shots into arms in these communities, but they have clearly chosen otherwise,” Belanger added.

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Radio announcements in English, Cree and Dene will start running on Monday and continue over the next several weeks.

“We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to get as many folks vaccinated as possible. That’s why we’re launching this campaign,” said Vermette. “For your own safety, for the safety of your family, for the safety of your community, if you haven’t already, please go get vaccinated.”

La Loche, Sask., Mayor Georgina Jolibois said about 29.3 per cent of residents in the city have gotten their first dose and 10.8 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated as of last week.

Jolibois said there are a number of factors leading to low vaccination rates in the community.

Read more: Cowessess First Nation navigates vaccine hesitancy during reserve’s rollout

“Historically, the Indigenous population, how everything with Canada and history, people are really cognizant and weary about — they know, I believe, they understand COVID is new. We know that COVID is new. We know the vaccines are new. And they want to wait until a little while later to get their vaccines,” Jolibois explained.

Jolibois added that some La Loche residents do shift work outside of the community, such as in Alberta or other parts of Saskatchewan, which also impacts vaccination rates.

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She added there are a few residents who just won’t consider taking it with no explanation as to why.

Jolibois said she and other leaders in the community have been working closely and collaboratively with medical health officers from the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

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Promotional ads on the radio and Facebook posts have also been used to get the word out, Jolibois explained.

She added community members who have been vaccinated are now acting as ambassadors, telling their friends to get vaccinated too.

“They have been promoting it and they have been telling their friends and family, look, this is why it’s important to take the vaccine.”

Jolibois also explained that English is not the primary language in La Loche, and she often translates messages to residents in Dene.

On June 3 and 4, the Jolibois joined the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) in a door-to-door campaign where about 250 vaccines were given out.

“We continue to work with leadership in various northern communities to address access and questions about vaccines. We are looking at doing similar campaigns in other communities across the north,” the SHA said in a statement.

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The SHA added dates and locations for these door-to-door campaigns have yet to be set.

“The SHA has also enhanced communication from the regional Medical Health Officers around safety and effectiveness of vaccines through MBC radio. We are sharing information about individual community coverage rates and COVID-19 status with municipal leaders across the north,” the statement read.

The statement cited vaccine hesitancy, transportation and childcare barriers as challenges to getting more residents vaccinated.

Read more: La Loche, a former Saskatchewan COVID-19 hotspot, hits 0 active cases

“The distance to the clinic does not matter if you can’t get there, or do not have child care. We continue to work with our partners and local communities to explore options to reduce those barriers, as well as provide opportunities to answer questions about vaccine efficacy and safety.”

Vaccine information about its effectiveness and safety was provided in Cree, Michif and Dene to residents whose first language is not English, according to the statement.

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