The Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee in northern Quebec has started vaccinating their population, beginning with 1,200 doses, and plans to start vaccinating the entire population of over 20,000 next week.
People in Mistissini, which is about 780 km north of Montreal and has roughly 3,500 residents, were among the first to receive the Moderna vaccine, which was approved in late December.
“Our target for the arrival for the bulk for the entire nation was on the 11th of January, but we received the first ones on Jan. 5, so we had to move pretty fast and priority of course for those ones were 45 and up,” explains Bertie Wapachee, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.
“There’s confirmations that we will receive the bulk in the next couple of days.”
Vaccinations started Wednesday at the Mistissini sports complex.
Wapachee says the original plan was for 800 doses to start the vaccination process, but the Cree Health Board asked for more.
“The number was too small in the beginning for us so we did our best to try and at least cover one community,” he said.
Mistissini was chosen for its proximity to a red zone including the nearby town of Chibougamau and the Lac St-Jean area.
Vaccinations for the other eight Cree communities in the territory start next week.
“At this point it doesn’t matter who gets vaccinated but we usually try to start with the right people you know the elders’ homes and the essential workers, the nurses, all the professionals, front-line people,” said Wapachee.
Wapachee says the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee has been grateful since the beginning that federal and provincial governments have put First Nation communities as a top priority for early vaccinations. Because of their lack of proper facilities and health workers a breakout in one of the isolated northern communities could be devastating.
Wapachee calls the vaccine a light at the end of the tunnel and credits the great job Cree communities have done keeping the virus out and now rolling out the vaccines to good leadership and excellent front-line workers.
Now that the vaccination process has started, Wapachee says he will soon be lining up for his shot – and a long-anticipated injection of hope for the Cree Nation in the new year.