Chief and council of a remote B.C. First Nation want immediate action in light of what they call a disastrous decision by health officials to withdraw potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccines from the community.
Nuxalk Nation and Bella Coola General Hospital were set to receive 110 vaccine doses each in January. But when Vancouver Coastal Health officer Dr. John Harding arrived in Bella Coola on Jan. 17, the nation found out he had brought 360 doses with him.
“When we were told of the 360 vaccines, we were also told we had up to two weeks to give the vaccine out,” Nuxalk councilor Iris Siwallace told Black Press Media.
On Jan. 19, the Nation held a vaccine clinic where 75 on-reserve elders were inoculated. During the clinic, Siwallace said Harding told Nuxalk leadership there would be joint collaboration in the initial rollout of the 360 doses.
However, according to reports by the CBC, Harding later suggested in an email exchange that further vaccinations be offered to off-reserve Nuxalk Nation members. Nuxalk executive director Wilma Mack responded, requesting 250 of the doses be released to their nursing team.
Siwallace said that later that afternoon Harding emailed Nuxalk they would have until 10 a.m. on Jan 22 to provide a rollout plan or he would take the vaccines back to Vancouver. Nuxalk officials responded with a plan at 10:02 a.m.
“He stated in one of his emails because we didn’t meet the required time frame, he was taking the vaccines away, but VCH was going to honour and gift the nation the 110 doses,” Siwallace said.
In a statement, Vancouver Coastal board chair Dr. Penny Ballem said the authority failed to provide a culturally safe and respectful experience for Nuxwalk members while providing COVID-19 vaccines.
“As I have shared with Chief Webber, we sincerely apologize to the Chief, Nuxalk Nation, and its members,” Ballem stated.
After having had assisted in welcoming Harding to Nuxalk territory and blessing him in bringing the vaccines, Siwallace said she felt it was a disgrace to Nuxalk.