The Tłı̨chǫ community of Wekweètì held its first Covid-19 vaccine clinic on Wednesday, inviting all eligible residents over the age of 18 to get inoculated against the coronavirus responsible for the disease.
The fly-in community is one of the first in the territory and the Tłı̨chǫ region to receive the vaccine. Its remote location places residents within a priority group according to the NWT’s vaccine rollout strategy.
Three nurses and two logisticians – responsible for coordinating care of the vaccine and checking in clients – escorted 110 doses of Moderna’s vaccine to the community.
A Tłı̨chǫ interpreter helped residents where required.
According to final numbers from the Department of Health and Social Services, 40 doses were provided that day.
Wekweètì has a population of 129 people according to the most recent census. Approximately 90 adults aged 18 or over are eligible to receive the vaccine.
“It’s kind-of scary but, once we get over it, it’s going to be exciting,” Chief of Wekweètì Charlie Football told Cabin Radio.
“We heard a lot about this sickness coming around to each community down south, so we have to prepare for that, to stand up to it.
“We want to live so, my people, we are asking them to get a shot.”
Also present in Wekweètì on Wednesday was the NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola. Kandola came to the community to receive her first dose of the vaccine after being personally invited by Football – an invitation she termed “a privilege.”
“I was speaking to him about the vaccine and any concerns, and then he goes, ‘Come to Wekweètì,’” Kandola said with a laugh. “It just never even occurred to me that could be an option.
“I think this is just a fabulous opportunity, especially the first week. It’s just exciting all around.”
Chief Football was the first person in the community to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, followed minutes later by Kandola.
“That was great. I didn’t even feel it,” Kandola said after receiving the shot.
“I want more!” Chief Football joked.
Eighteen other communities across the NWT are receiving their first doses of the vaccine this week, including Colville Lake, Wrigley, Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, and Łútsël K’é. A complete vaccination schedule is available on the health authority’s website.
Nurses will return to Wekweètì in mid-February to administer a second vaccine dose. Moderna’s vaccine requires two doses, four weeks apart.
Nerves and excitement
Wekweètì resident Madeline Judas, the community’s volunteer healthcare and medevac coordinator, received her vaccine on Wednesday after helping to spread the word of its arrival.
“I’m happy that everybody is ready to get vaccinated,” she said. “They’ve been hearing about the sickness that’s all over the world, so it’s good that they come to our community.”
There was some apprehension in the community around the vaccine, Judas acknowledged. She had spent time talking with residents to help them understand the vaccine and its purpose.
Radio broadcasts in Tłı̨chǫ also helped ease nerves, she said.
Kimberly Football said her shot wasn’t as bad as she thought.
“It was not much of a big deal,” she said. “I feel like a new person.”
Mary Adele Tsatchia, an Elder, said: “Ever since I was young, I used to be scared of the needle.
“At the federal day school, when they said ‘I’m going get a needle’ … I would cry and scream, and I would just run out the door.”
It helped that there was interpretation available in Tłı̨chǫ, said Tsatchia.
“I’m very happy that I got the needle,” she said.
“I don’t want to risk my life by not getting the needle. I’m so happy to get the vaccine.”