A shipment of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive in a Vancouver Island First Nation Wednesday as cases of the virus continue to climb just days after a cluster was declared.
Snuneymuxw First Nation’s chief Mike Wyse announced a total of 19 cases in the community located near Nanaimo on Tuesday.
“We are definitely in trying times for Snuneymuxw, but as a community, we are hanging in there and moving forward, we’ve got a lot of good support on our side,” he said.
A shelter-in-place order remains in effect and the people who have tested positive are isolating in the community. Residents are asked to stay home and security officers are monitoring people’s access in and out of the community.
Wyse said about 600 Snuneymuxw people live on the reserve and there could be more cases.
“As a community, we are very concerned,” he said. “There were some gatherings over the break... we haven’t received any information yet. We asked to refrain from gatherings, but unfortunately, there were gatherings.”
Snuneymuxw resident Charlene Nelson said she knows people who have the virus, including a family member.
“Just praying for the family members that I know of that are here,” she said.
Nelson adds the community’s response to the cases has been very comforting.
“There’s a lot of fear. I was waiting for COVID to show up because no one is invincible,” she said. “But I am impressed with the efforts of the chief and council and the rapid response... I feel like I am taken care of, I feel safe.”
Chief Wyse also announced Tuesday night that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be available starting Wednesday.
“Some of our housing is overcrowded and we have elders in those homes and they are at high risk and we want to be able to look after our elders and our vulnerable at this time,” he said.
A pop-up clinic will run for two days from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to administer the vaccine.
“We are prioritizing Snuneymuxw elders in the cluster and who live on-reserve to have the opportunity to receive the vaccine first. We have designated 9 a.m. to noon tomorrow morning for Snuneymuxw elders to be immunized,” said Wyse.
Following the elders, the vaccine doses will go to front line workers before being distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Dr. Judith Sayers, president of the Nuchanalth Tribal Council, is encouraging everyone to take the vaccine.
“The risk is picking it up and bringing it home and then it spreads very rapidly,” she said. “It’s taken two of our elders so far, we just don’t want any more.”
According to B.C.’s Ministry of Health, more than 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine have been distributed to 18 rural and remote First Nations communities in B.C., six of which are on Vancouver Island.
Sayers wants the vaccines sent to communities before the spread occurs and is calling for the B.C. government to consider more input from First Nation communities directly on where they should be sent.
“I really do think that is missing, we do need to be more involved,” she said.
No one has had to be hospitalized for the virus in Snuneymeux, according to Wyse.
“A few of them were starting to show some advance symptoms so it is a bit concerning,” he said. “We are making sure we have our medical staff that are in place to support them as the days go by.”
Arrangements are being made to have people isolate in separate housing if they test positive for the virus and the shelter-in-place order will remain until at least Jan. 15.
“We are just taking extra precautionary measures to make sure we are slowing it down and doing our part as a community,” said Wyse.