First Nations’ vaccination clinics a big success

Between the three clinics, over 600 people were vaccinated in early March


Nurse Alexa Bisaillon waits with needle prepped for her next immunization patient at Wakas Community Hall on the Tsulquate Reserve. (Zoë Ducklow photo)

Nurse Alexa Bisaillon waits with needle prepped for her next immunization patient at Wakas Community Hall on the Tsulquate Reserve. (Zoë Ducklow photo)

Vaccines arrived on the North Island after a long year of physical distancing and periodic lock downs.

The medical team at Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations administered 544 over the first weekend in March, even opening up the clinic to community partners so no doses were wasted.

Kwakiutl First Nation held a clinic on the Fort Rupert reserve, and Quatsino First Nation’s clinic vaccinated 80 per cent of their eligible members on March 8-9.

On Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw’s Tsulquate reserve, the Wakas Community Hall was set up with a reception station — with its own disco light and boombox — a widely spaced waiting area, four immunization stations and a spaced out recovery circle for people to wait under observation for 15 or 30 minutes after receiving the shot.

The clinic opened on Friday, March 5 with a blessing and prayer from the hereditary chiefs and elders. Over 20 health care staff and volunteers coordinated the operation, along with nurses from Island Health and the First Nations Health Authority.

There was some hesitation in the community, uncertainty around the vaccine. Dr. Sophie Waterman, a local doctor, made herself available during the whole clinic to talk with people who had concerns. Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw councillor Darryl Coon knocked on doors throughout the reserve inviting people to come get vaccinated, and held the hands of elders while they were injected. 

The mood was high on Monday, day four of the marathon vaccine clinic, as nurses diluted vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine with saline, and pulled the 3 milligram dose into clean needles. They were organized, efficient, and getting tired — on Sunday they had vaccinated 192 people, and they still had about 100 more to go. By Tuesday morning, it was all done.

Quatsino had a strong response from their members. Health Director Jen Nelson said there were some people nervous about the vaccine, mostly due to the unknown. They held a virtual town hall the week before to help answer questions.

There was one elder who came to get immunized who had never received so much as a flu shot before, she said. “That was pretty huge for him.”

The second dose will be administered in the next few months. Island Health says it takes roughly two weeks for the body to mount a significant immune response after just one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

The rest of the North Island will be vaccinated as a whole community rather than that age-based scheduling the rest of B.C. is doing. The first doses are expected to arrive in April.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: