'Emotional': vaccinations begin in Kahnawake for people 85 and over, immunosuppressed

“Take a nice deep breath,” said Nurse Samantha Gilbert, readying a needle.

“One, two, three. Finished.”

Then, applause.

Myrtle Bush became the first person to get a shot in Kahnawake’s vaccine rollout for people 85 and up on Thursday.

“I didn’t even feel anything,” said Bush, appearing in a livestream posted to social media.

“My son calls me every Sunday and asks, ‘did you get your shot yet?’" she said. "He’s going to be so happy.”

After Bush, about 100 others are expected to receive the vaccine on Thursday in Kahnawake, the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community south of Montreal.

Another 100 are expected to get a dose on Friday, and 50 the day after.

“And then, come next Monday, we’ll be in full swing,” said Public Safety Commissioner Lloyd Phillips, who also appeared in the video.

“We are at the beginning of the end with these vaccines,” he said, adding that health officials are aiming to vaccinate at least 80 per cent of the community, with another shipment of Moderna vaccines arriving next week.

“If we could get 100 per cent, that would be even better.”

Public health staff and elders held a traditional tobacco-burning ceremony to receive the 242 doses that arrived at the centre Thursday.

“I’ve been very emotional all morning,” said Lisa Westaway, executive director of the Kateri Memorial Hospital.

Westaway says people in other age groups will be able to make an appointment next week.

She says it will take just three or four weeks to give everyone a first dose, while public health waits for direction from the province on when to give the second.

STILL A LONG WAY FROM NORMAL: RESIDENT

Despite its proximity to Montreal, a coronavirus hotspot in Canada, Kahnawake has only recorded about 110 cases in total. On Thursday, public health officials told CTV News the community has zero active cases.

But even with the spread contained, Westaway says vaccinations can’t happen soon enough.

“We do have high risk factors within the community,” she said.

In a population of about 8,000, there are about 250 people over 85 living in Kahnawake.

“That kind of population is quite high compared to other communities," said Westaway.

Peggy Mayo-Standup is the president of the local elders’ community centre, the Golden Age Club. While she said she’s excited to receive her vaccine, she’s not ready to lower her guard.

“I have no intentions of taking my mask off,” she said.

She says that’s a common feeling among older people in the community, many of whom may not return to regular life even if restrictions are lifted.

“I don't even know if they would feel comfortable to come out,” she said. “I would consider reopening [the Golden Age Club], but I don't think we can go back to what we once were.”

But according to Westaway, the mood was a little different among those getting their shots on Thursday.

“The elders didn't want to leave because they were finally socializing after being stuck in their houses,” she said.

Phillips agreed, saying that “it was probably the most positive thing I’ve seen in the past year."

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