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Who got the COVID-19 shot?

After an involved campaign and the tireless work of the COVID-19 Task Force, mixed with community solidarity, the vaccination rollout has come to an end.

As of Thursday, April 15, 73.4 percent of all eligible Kahnawa’kehró:non adults have been vaccinated. Although there are still a few walk-ins for first timers the last few days, the health care team has been mostly administering second doses.

Close to 5,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered.

“We were shooting for 80 percent, but this is really good,” said Lisa Westaway, the executive director of the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC). Further, she explained that as long as the vaccination centre is operating, no resident would be turned away.

Westaway explained this percentage will likely increase, as both pharmacies in town are going to be receiving 100 vaccines per week starting at the beginning of next week.

The rollout, however successful, was no walk in the park. “There was some vaccine hesitancy,” explained the hospital director. “We made some changes and looked at the major obstacles.”

Westaway said that community members wanted to voice their concerns and ask questions privately, so creating an extension where Kahnawa’kehró:non were able to participate in this dialogue with a nurse or health professional, went a long way.

“The phone line was very active and we made people feel comfortable,” she said. “And when you walk-in to get vaccinated, there’s always someone available to answer your questions, and if you’re not interested after that, you can leave. No issues there.”

With the health care team’s diligence came the strength of the Kahnawake collective. “The community really came together,” said Westaway.

Community member Fran Montour Douglas has expressed deep gratitude for the diligence and hard work she observed surrounding the rollout.

“The Task Force and everyone involved has done an amazing job,” she said. “Making my online appointment for my husband was pretty easy and everything is well organized on the website.” For Douglas, the decision to get vaccinated was effortless. “I always wanted the vaccine, and the information that the Task Force provided helped to finalize my choice,” she explained. “It’s one step to getting back to normalcy.”

Overall, Westaway is proud of the vaccination campaign. The creation of the website, the accessibility of valid, reliable information and resources, and promoting people’s vaccination experience, collectively played into the success. “All of it together contributed quite nicely,” she said.

Moving forward, as the vaccination percentage increases and so does the nice weather, Westaway reminds the community that vaccines are merely an extra layer of protection, and not an invisibility cloak.

“If we had no variants and everything was as it was a few months ago, then perhaps we would be saying that we were heading toward herd immunity and we are completely protected,” said the KMHC director and Task Force member. “But that’s not the case.”

As they await live data and research on the efficacy of the vaccines on the different COVID-19 variants, the Task Force explained that certain measures simply have to remain in place.

“It’s about keeping your distance, wearing your masks, hygiene and vaccinations. Those four layers together decrease the risks in any given situation, but there is still a risk,” she said.

Although many community members have voiced concerns about what they feel are rigid restrictions, Westaway wants to reiterate that many measures have already been lifted. “Due to our high vaccination rate and people continually following measures, we have been able to put things in place that are still risky, but less risky than they were a couple weeks ago,” she said.

Westaway reminds the community of the lifted measures, which are as follows: eight people are allowed to gather outside; two households can visit indoors; individual sports are permitted; outdoor sports are now permitted with up to eight participants; visitations have started again at KMHC and Turtle Bay Elders’ Lodge; and most businesses are open.

With that being said, more explicit masking directives have increased as protection against the unknown impacts of the variants. Several weeks ago, health and social services implemented a change in mask procedures, where all employees were required to wear a level two mask and anyone walking inside the building with a cloth mask was given a level one mask.

“This matches regional public health directives and our elevated contact tracing procedures,” explained Westaway. “We have just transferred this directive from health and social services into the other organizations within the community,” she said, notably the Mohawk Council and Kahnawake Education Center.

Prior to this change, if you were in an enclosed environment, like a meeting room, and you were appropriately distanced, you could remove your mask when you were seated. With this new directive, you must keep your mask on at all times indoors, as there is evidence that transmission of variants can occur at longer distances in enclosed environments. “It’s an added protection,” she said.

In schools, teachers and students also have elevated the level of masks they are using and must keep them on while sitting at their desks. Although three-ply masks are not enforced within private households, Westaway recommends wearing them when possible. “We are not forcing people to go out and buy things, we are educating about risks and protection,” she said.

As the pandemic drudges on, and community members continue to itch for familiarity, neighbouring cities like Montreal have taken things to the extreme.

With anti-mask rallies and public outcry over the reinstated eight p.m. curfew, the Task Force believes that Kahnawake will remain in control if the delivery of correct information remains consistent and stable.

“It’s the seesaw effect that causes anxiety. In Kahnawake, we are trying our best to not open things up pre-maturely,” said Lloyd Phillips, the commissioner of Public Safety and the head of the Task Force. “I would rather keep things closed for a little longer, and then when we say they can open, there’s a good chance they are going to stay open.”

Phillips says that consistent communication with the public is absolutely key. “We have been in local media, Facebook live broadcasts and radio twice a week,” said the commissioner. “This curbs some of that misinformation.”

Overall, the Task Force is encouraged by the community’s response, and is hopeful for what’s to come.

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