By Victoria Gray
Six Nations community members not signing up to get a COVID-19 vaccination could force paramedics and health care workers to start deciding who is too sick to dedicate services to.
Six Nations Health Services director Lori Davis-Hill said paramedics are now in training in how to determine if someone is too sick to transport.
“So, the paramedics are now in training for if they have to make a choice or decision to not transport someone to hospital for care and treatment. That’s a very dire situation that health care is in right now,” she told Six Nations Elected Council’s (SNEC) Human Services Committee April 7th..
She said Six Nations community members need to protect themselves.
She said the variants of concern are showing up at Six Nations, with the UK variant currently being seen. She said while it doesn’t seem as bad as the Brazil variant it could start showing up at Six Nations at any time.
Davis-Hill, aid it is a serious situation.
. She those variants are causing more and more severe illnesses in younger people at a time when health care is reaching capacity. She said the lack of people getting vaccinated coupled with variants showing up in the community is forcing health services to train people to pick and choose who to treat and who is too sick to dedicate resources to.
“So, the paramedics are now in training for if they have to make a choice or decision to not transport someone to hospital for care and treatment. That’s a very dire situation that health care is in right now,” she said.
She said she doesn’t know why more people aren’t signing up for vaccines, but a team is working on different communication methods to boost vaccine confidence and encourage people to get vaccinated to protect the community.
“I think there’s a lot of people who think the vaccine is going to be available when they get the urge and it really is a challenge,” Davis-Hill said.
Councillor Audrey Bomberry told the committee Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s “emergency brake” didn’t seem to affect people and later that day a state of emergency and province wide stay-at-home order was issued.
“So, I really don’t think there is an appreciation for the risk within the health care system,” she said.
Six Nations received 6,000 of 10,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in March and began vaccinating people at Emily C General Elementary School, then moved the vaccination clinic to the Gaylord Powless Arena a few weeks later, but only 2,119 people have been partially vaccinated and 293 people have had both doses of the vaccine. There are 1,414 people booked to receive either their first or second dose of the vaccine, but that is nowhere near the 10,000 vaccine mark Six Nations projected to vaccinate.
As of April 7th there were six active cases in the community and three cases of the UK variant, one reported on April 6. There have been 443 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and nine people have died.
“We have 10,000 people eligible [for the vaccine],” Davis-Hill said. “We have a ways to go.”
Councillor Hazel Johnson said she didn’t understand why more people weren’t getting the vaccine because of the stronger variants.
“It just scares me to think if our people are not protecting themselves it could create a major crisis again for our community. I don’t know how anyone could encourage somebody,” she said. “If they’re not getting it, are they against the vaccine? Or they’re just not getting the information?”
David-Hill said it was hard to tell what people were thinking, but she has a team working on ways to connect with as many people as possible to raise vaccine confidence.
“That can go out right now,” she said. “There really does need to be a lot more, I guess, communication out there.”
She said part of the confusion might be that community members don’t understand how the vaccine or the vaccination clinics work. She said the vaccine is “fragile in the sense” that once a bottle of vaccine is open it must be used within six hours. One bottle contains 11 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine must be kept in a freezer at -25ºC and once thawed can be stored in a refrigerator between 2°C and 8°C for up to 30 days, or at 12°C for 12 hours before the vial is punctured, once it is punctured those 11 doses must be administered within six hours. If they are not administered the vial must be disposed of.
“We need to be kind of be scheduling in those sets of 11 to make sure we’re using all those vaccines in the vial,” Davis-Hill said.
She said she has heard that some younger community members have not heard that the vaccines are available for all those aged 18 and over and more communication would be sent out over social media to inform more people very soon.
“It has been that way [available to all those 18+] since the vaccine clinic opened the second date. Once we got the second shipment of 6,000 we opened it up to 18 and over,” she said.
David-Hill thinks there’s a possibility that people think enough others have been vaccinated to give the community herd immunity, but she said that’s not the case.
“There is a very low percentage of the community that has been vaccinated so, there’s not an assumption (of herd immunity). People heard we got a lot of vaccines and their assumption was everyone was vaccinated, it hasn’t happened,” she said.
She hopes through the added communication to help people understand that there are a lot of vulnerable people in the community who can’t get the COVID-19 vaccination due to age, illnesses or allergies, including all of those under 18, who are not eligible for the vaccine. There were many suggestions to get people on board including a live call-in radio show, t-shirts, stickers, social media live streaming and social media posts.
“[The variants are] like a whole new challenge we’re facing because it’s a much more rapidly spreading and intensive illness with a younger population. The people who are prioritized for vaccinations are not the ones at high risk for variants, seemingly, I guess,” Davis-Hill said.
Those who are resident of Six Nations and were vaccinated in Brantford were confirmed for their second dose within the 28-day window, whereas those Indigenous people li ving off-reserve will have to wait the provincially mandated 16-weeks for their second dose. Ryan Spiteri, manager of communications for the Brant County Public Health Unit confirmed more than 1,200 Six Nations residents were vaccinated in Brantford.
Haldimand-Norfolk Health and Social supervisor of corporate affairs Kyra Hayes said 90 per cent of Indigenous people living in Haldimand-Norfolk have received their first dose and will be able to book their second dose after the 21-28 day waiting period, but she couldn’t break down numbers to if those people live on Six Nations or in Haldimand-Norfolk, nor did she provide specific numbers.
By Victoria Gray