The B.C. Assembly of First Nations is trying to quash misinformation circulating about vaccines, in push to protect vulnerable people
“Getting the vaccine is safe.”
That is the message behind a public service announcement by the B.C. Assembly of First Nations that aims to quash misinformation circulating in the province and encourage people to get immunized.
The mostly animated PSA is voiced by Terry Teegee, the regional chief of the Assembly, who speaks while a hypodermic needle drawn in a Northwest Coast art style sweeps past a longhouse, through a forested, mountainous land and down into a coastal community. The needle, which begins and ends its journey in the video as a transmogrifying feather, immunizes people as it goes, bringing colour and smiles to their lives.
“To protect our communities, and especially our elders, it’s vital that as many people as possible get vaccinated,” Teegee says in the video.
Teegee, who was interviewed about an hour before he was scheduled to be immunized, said historical and contemporary experiences that First Nations people have had with racism in the health care system have led many to scoff at the idea of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’ve got many survivors of the residential school system and during that time there were some experiments with Indigenous peoples,” he said. Some of those survivors are still alive, and some had been forcibly sterilized, Teegee added. “There’s real mistrust with the health-care system.”
A pair of recent reports by the former children’s representative, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, have found Indigenous-specific racism and prejudice continues in B.C.’s health care system. The first of the reports prompted Health Minister Adrian Dix to offer an “unequivocal apology” to Indigenous people for the system’s failings. The second found Indigenous people were more likely to be turned away from emergency departments without receiving needed medical help. It also found First Nations women were overrepresented in COVID-19 infections.
Meanwhile, misinformation about the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines and skepticism around their safety is circulating, Teegee said. The PSA directly addresses this lingering concern, which is not unique to First Nations communities. It states that “COVID-19 vaccines have passed the same rigorous testing as all other vaccines.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the disparity between the privileged and the poor, Teegee said. For example, a lack of adequate infrastructure and housing in First Nations communities make their members more vulnerable to the virus, he said.
Teegee said he understood as many as 40 per cent of First Nations people aged 65 and under were hesitant to be vaccinated. But First Nations communities are not the only ones that could stand to hear to the message, he said.
“We’re all in this together regardless of which community you’re from,” Teegee said. It will take herd immunity to “really break this pandemic,” he added.
The B.C. First Nations Health Authority recently released a fact sheet on the COVID-19 vaccine. It detailed the efficacy rates of vaccines approved for use by Canada, and said there was strong evidence that they were safe.
“Feeling worried or hesitant is normal when something is new and it is understandable that some people — especially Indigenous people — may lack trust in the medical system. However, vaccine trials go through rigorous, well-established ethical processes. We can feel assured that vaccines are safe, effective and that they will save lives.”
Recent polling from Angus Reid, conducted in partnership with CBC B.C., suggested about 20 per cent of Northern B.C. residents would not accept a vaccine compared to just seven per cent of Metro Vancouver residents.
Remote Indigenous communities were among the first to receive vaccines under Stage 1 of B.C.’s vaccination plan, and all Indigenous people over 65 are eligible to be vaccinated in Stage 2, starting this month.