First Nations Health Authority pushes for booster shots for B.C. Indigenous communities

COVID-19 cases have been climbing in Indigenous communities across B.C., including a recent spike in Ahousaht, B.C., amplifying calls for booster shots from the First Nations Health Authority.

Dr. Shannon McDonald is the chief medical officer for the FNHA, she says there are now more than 700 active cases amongst First Nations communities, a notable increase from August. “Six weeks now we've seen a significant increase among our communities,” said McDonald.

Adding to the concern is the fact that many of these cases are happening to First Nations people who have both vaccine doses — a stark contrast to the data for the general population.

“Things are different in First Nations right now,” said McDonald Tuesday. “We are finding that up to 25 to 30 per cent in some cases, on any day, are individuals that have been vaccinated,”

“One potential factor contributing to this difference is that because First Nations people were prioritized for their first shots, and many got their second dose within a shorter interval than other British Columbians as the vaccine rollout plans were adjusted, the protection of those early vaccines for many First Nations people may wearing off,” she said.

It’s a theory the province’s top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says make sense. “Things we've learned is that the longer interval gives you stronger and longer lasting protection,” said Henry on Tuesday.

Another concern for First Nations at the moment is that a lower percentage of Indigenous people in B.C. have been vaccinated than the rest of B.C.'s eligible population.

In Alert Bay, B.C., where there was an outbreak early in the pandemic amongst the Namgis First Nation, Chief Don Svanvik says he’s not aware of any active cases now.

Still, he says there are members of his community who are vaccine hesitant, and he’s speaking out to encourage everyone, Indigenous or not, to get vaccinated.

Svanvik encourages people to talk to health professionals or doctors if they have any concerns about the vaccines or their side effects, but says he’s confident they are safe.

“This has got to be one of the most studied vaccines ever,” he said Tuesday.

The FNHA wants to see all Indigenous people in B.C. get a booster shot soon. “I would prefer that it be a blanket statement about the vulnerability of First Nations,” she said. “It is well reflected in our data.”

Henry says talks are underway to address the issue, on both the provincial and federal levels.

“We are looking at whether booster doses are needed across the board, not only for Indigenous people here B.C., but across Canada,” she said. Henry says more details will be announced about booster shots for Indigenous people and other groups in the next two to three weeks.