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Nuxalk relieved to receive vaccine, after dramatic removal of doses from community

A month after Vancouver Coastal Health dramatically removed a vaccine shipment from the Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola, COVID-19 vaccines are arriving back to the Central Coast community this week.

In January, the CBC obtained documents showing VCH medical health officer Dr. John Harding called vaccine doses meant for the Nuxalk “a gift,” before getting an RCMP escort out of the community, leaving with hundreds of doses planned for Nuxalk elders. 

VCH has since apologized for what they call a failure “to provide a culturally safe and respectful experience for Nuxalk Nation members while providing COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable elders in their remote community.”

The Ministry of Health has also apologized to the Nuxalk. 

Now the vaccine promised to the Nuxalk has returned, only this time, it is the First Nations Health Authority delivering it. 

“There’s a feeling of safety,” Nuxalk health director Kirsten Milton told Early Edition host Stephen Quinn. “It will bring a brighter future for the community,” she added.

Nuxalk leaders say racism played a role in the disappearance of their January vaccine shipment, and trust will have to be restored as the new doses arrive.

The January incident took place as the B.C. government began its rollout of the Moderna vaccine in remote Indigenous communities, which have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and often have poor access to health care.

“We need a lot more collaboration, a lot more communication when it comes to serving our Indigenous communities,” Milton said.

Health Authority says work to be done

Milton says 110 immunocompromised people and frontline health staff of the Nuxalk Nation will be inoculated this week. The Nuxalk health team is running vaccine clinics on Wednesday and Thursday.  

The community currently has about five active COVID-19 cases.

emily malnis and caroline mack
Nurse Emily Malnis vaccinates Nuxalk Elder Caroline Mack at a January vaccination clinic in the Nuxalk community. (Submitted by the Nuxalk Nation)

The CBC asked Vancouver Coastal Health for an interview relating to the incident in Nuxalk territory, but has declined requests over several weeks. 

In an email VCH stated that the First Nations Health Authority was originally intended to provide the vaccine to the Nuxalk community.

However there seemed to be confusion among the health authorities. A statement issued by VCH said, “due to the proximity of the Nation to Bella Coola Hospital, Nuxalk Nation was categorized as a non-isolated First Nation community in the FNHA vaccination phasing.”

VCH did not answer questions related to why the medical health officer called the vaccine a “gift” and told the Nuxalk health team he was rescinding the vaccine because the nation did not create a plan on time. It also has not explained why VCH called the RCMP for an escort out of Nuxalk territory.

But its statement did say: “Vancouver Coastal Health has work to do to rebuild a respectful relationship with the Nuxalk Nation. Vancouver Coastal Health board of directors, leaders, staff and medical staff are strongly committed to that work.”

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