First Nation that lost 6 members this year to COVID-19 calls for immediate booster shots to elders

The Wet’suwet’en First Nation is urging health officials to provide booster shots to its eligible members right away, rather than in early 2022 as planned.

The public call came on Oct. 22 after leaders heard from health officials about the projected timeline for getting booster doses to Wet’suwet’en members.

The nation says it has lost six members over the last 11 months due to COVID-19.

Those who died were elders, language keepers and hereditary chiefs due to COVID-19. Two of those deaths came in the last two weeks, and four matriarchs are now testing positive for COVID-19.

“Our small community is being hit hard right now and we are all in grief,” said Wet’suwet’en councillor Karen Ogen.

Chief Maureen Luggi says that many members were fully vaccinated at the beginning of 2021, which means it will be nearly a year between their second dose and booster.

“We haven’t even buried our most recently deceased elder and we’re having to contend with being denied full health care,” she said.

The Wet’suwet’en First Nation, located near Burns Lake, west of Prince George, has approximately 255 members living both on and off reserve.

This fall, B.C. health officials announced that some small communities, seniors living in long-term care and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, would be offered booster shots in the coming months. The boosters have already been rolled out at many long-term care homes.

“Our elders are the ones who hold the knowledge regarding Wet’suwet’en traditional history, our lands, our language, our culture, our traditions,” Luggi said.

“So that's the threat that we're facing here in the North.”

In a statement the B.C. Ministry of Health said it had not yet received a “formal” request from the nation.

“First Nations Health Authority acting chief medical officer Dr. Shannon McDonald and (provincial health officer) Doctor Bonnie Henry continue to review the data around vaccine efficiency for all ages and populations,” the statement reads.

Without acknowledging the recent COVID-19 transmissions described by the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, the health authority said it’s also “prioritizing First Nations communities where there have been recent transmissions, with vaccination teams providing first and second doses as well as boosters to Elders and seniors.” 

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Angela Jung

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