By Victoria Gray
Six Nations may not leave the Black Alert Level until more community members decide to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Sara Smith, Ohsweken Public Health epidemiologist, gave a presentation about vaccine coverage at the Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC) general council meeting on May 25, but during that presentation a Facebook commentator identified as Davis Davis questioned on the Facebook Live stream asking when Six Nations may move out of the Black.
Smith said previously under the Six Nations Framework, it could move out of the Black if it had two weeks with downward trending cases and risk factors like, community spread. Those parameters are evaluated on a weekly basis Smith said Six Nations has reached that threshold, but the provincial government has now switched from its reopening colour scheme to a reopening plan that includes vaccination coverage.
“I am unclear at this time if we maintain this framework and status, currently conversations are underway,” she said.
Elected Chief Mark Hill jumped in to say those conversations are always ongoing, but no decisions have been made.
“As we’ve alluded, Ontario changed its reopening plan. We have to look at some amendments to our response frameworks or if we adopt the Ontario framework, that’s a conversation at this time,” he said.
Lori Davis-Hill, director of Health Services said despite the change in the government’s framework, Six Nations policy was to enter Black when the province went into lockdown and to stay in Black until the provincial lockdown order was lifted.
“Once they lift that, we are free to move to Red,” she said.
But she cautioned that vaccination coverage is important and said the more people who are vaccinated the more possible and safer reopening will become.
“We do need to get vaccination rates up with a comprehensive plan. In addition to social media, I think we need to rely on maybe the ‘moccasin telegraph’ to encourage our friends and family to become vaccinated,” she said.
Councillor Melba Thomas asked about offering incentives to people to encourage them to get the vaccine, like a draw for a prize. Davis-Hill said it was something to think about.
Councillor Wendy Johnson said she’d like to see companies encouraging their staff to get vaccinated and to ensure that the community knows what’s happening before the framework changes so they have some time to prepare.
I hear you saying, ‘there’s discussion,’ but how far in advance can we get for the opening plan? We seem to lag behind,” she said. “It’s that delay, always. How can we make this less complicated for our members?
Davis-Hill retorted that it has only been a week since the provincial change and they need time to analyze the situation and the data.
“I completely agree, give the community warning and some hope I guess for reopening,” she said.
The more people who are vaccinated the closer Six Nations will get to herd immunity. The World Health Organization (WHO) said in December 2020 that the exact number of people vaccinated against a disease to reach herd immunity depends on the disease. It is unknown what percentage of people vaccinated would create herd immunity against COVID-19.
It took a 95 per cent to achieve herd immunity against measles and 80 per cent against polio.
“The proportion of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not known. This is an important area of research and will likely vary according to the community, the vaccine, the populations prioritized for vaccination, and other factors,” a WHO press release said.
Councillor Helen Miller blamed the federal government for its lack of preparedness at the beginning of the pandemic because public health was understaffed.
“I think we may have been further ahead or better off if we had,” she said. “It hasn’t been easy. I know these guys have been working hard.”
Hill said there’s no point in looking back, only looking toward the future.
“As much as we can look at what we should have done, we’re still very much in the response phase. I don’t think we should focus on what we should have done. We have seen an increase with public health nurses and overtime,” he said. “The federal government did send supportive staff when we were in outbreaks.”
Smith, Hill nor Davis-Hill mentioned how many people needed to get vaccinated to open the territory.
Hill said the community came together to get through the pandemic and needs to continue to come together.
“It really has been a community response. Public health has been there guiding us throughout the entire pandemic… We have a lot of skills and expertise that supported our response. We’ve done our best and we’ll continue to do our best.”
By Victoria Gray