Couchiching almost fully vaccinated

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

Couchiching First Nation has administered more than 3,000 vaccines and is nearing the end of vaccinating all their residents.

Armand Jourdain Senior, Couchiching Health and Recreation director, said they started vaccinating Couchiching residents in early February. With this being the fifth month of the community’s vaccination campaign, Jourdain said the goal is to make sure their population is as safe as possible.

“We worked with our leadership, chief and council of Couchiching First Nation,” Jourdain said. “We also worked with Deputy Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Shawn Batise. We gave numbers that we need in order to vaccinate our population and it’s going quite well.”

Jourdain said he attributes this success to the marvellous team that worked day and night to make sure everybody who wanted the vaccine got one.

Patti-Jo LeDrew, community registered nurse, said there was some vaccine hesitancy at first, but they took it upon themselves to educate people about the vaccination safety and side effects.

“We did a lot of education for people and a lot of it was individualized,” LeDrew said. “There was a learning curve. There were questions regarding the vaccine and what kind of side effects would happen.”

LeDrew added that they have not taken a break since February in order to make sure all their vaccines are used.

In doing so, they worked with the Northwestern Health Unit and Dr. Kit Young Hoon. She said they helped with COVID concerns, managing contact tracing and provided everything in a timely manner to get everything under control on Couchiching First Nation.

LeDrew added that they also informed residents about what to expect after vaccinations and how to mitigate side effects.

The education campaign regarding vaccine hesitancy was also extended beyond the clinics, Tracy Arvelin, community health representative, said.

“I actually lost my voice a couple of times taking all the phone calls,” Arvelin chuckled. “There was so much vaccine hesitancy in the beginning and I took it upon myself to do some education online and through webinars. But it doesn’t stop here. You still have to take all of your precautions.”

The team also made sure that spreading awareness did not stop after the vaccination. Arvelin said they would get calls from people asking if it was normal having a headache post vaccination and they just needed assurance that it was normal.

The nurses also worked beyond working hours to make sure elders and others with physical disabilities who could not access a clinic got vaccinated. Arvelin said nurses would go to their homes and give them the vaccination.

However, the team made sure that those who refused to get the vaccine were provided with the appropriate protective equipment, masks and hand sanitizers. That being said, they are still encouraging those who did not get their vaccines to get it.

Jourdain said since the last pandemic was the Spanish Flu, they did not have anything to look at. However, Jourdain said, they adopted a piecemeal approach and all the necessary grounds that had to be covered.

There is definitely some fatigue because it was challenging, but they met the challenge, he added. 

Despite the challenges that came their way, the team is proud of the milestone they reached, while being hopeful to continue vaccinating their youth population to guarantee maximum safety for all residents.

Tamara Bruyere, personal support worker, said she is proud of how the health team acted when they found themselves in the frontlines.

“We came together and did what had to be done,” Bruyere said. “We were able to accomplish that because we all have a role in our community to be able to make people feel at ease. We did not wait for people to register. We literally asked everybody to come.”