THUNDER BAY — The Chiefs of four First Nations belonging to the nine-member Matawa First Nations group want their communities prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations.
Under Operation Remote Immunity, which began Tuesday, Ontario will initially administer vaccine to 31 remote-access First Nations, including five members of Matawa First Nations.
The project excludes road-access First Nations such as Aroland, Long Lake # 58, Ginoogaming, and Constance Lake, all of which have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks.
A letter from Matawa First Nations to General Rick Hillier (retired) on behalf of the four communities calls for their inclusion in the first phase of the province's vaccination program.
Hillier chairs the vaccine distribution task force.
The letter expresses frustration that the Matawa First Nations with outbreaks are currently left out of the program, and says that at the very least, any surplus vaccine from Operation Remote Immunity should be earmarked for them.
It notes that the guiding principles used to prioritize remote communities for Phase 1, including risk of evacuation, quality of water, and access to health services, ignore equally important challenges in the road-access First Nations.
The letter cites these examples and others:
- lack of personnel and burnout due to communities' small size
- inability to sustain a long-term pandemic response
- similar socio-economic conditions to remote First Nations
- large high-risk population with mental health and addictions issues who are harder to track and treat
"Addressing the COVID-19 virus in our communities has been challenging and taxing on our personnel and volunteers. Our communities are in a syndemic. We are not just dealing with the global virus but other epidemics that are contributing to our inability to contain the virus," said Chief Judy Desmoulin of Long Lake # 58 First Nation.
Desmoulin added "We are trying almost everything and don't see any way to control it other than getting the vaccine immediately."
Councillor Sheri Taylor of Ginoogaming said that, at the very least, the four communities should receive the vaccine shortly after the remote First Nations, and prior to the larger Phase 2 vaccine rollout.
As of late Tuesday, General Hillier had not commented on the Matawa request.