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MLA calls for Indigenous residents to be added in priority groups

Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler is asking why Indigenous residents were not among the extended priority populations announced by the GNWT to receive the vaccine.

Semmler pointed out that the federal Minister of Indigenous Services recently said the decision to prioritize Indigenous people living in remote communities and those living in urban centres getting the vaccine is based on science.

“Why is it that Indigenous people have not been placed on the priority list in the NWT, if our federal Minister is defending this publicly?” she adds.

Priority groups were recently expanded in Yellowknife, Inuvik and Hay River to allow for more residents to receive their first shot of the vaccine.

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The other 30 NWT communities however, have either had or are currently having first and second dose clinics for all eligible residents.

Semmler says she is aware that the entire of what the GNWT call small or remote communities in the NWT have been prioritized but doesn’t understand why the mostly Indigenous regional centres haven’t been on this list.

“I am sure, when the federal Minister said ‘remote Indigenous communities,’ Inuvik and Hay River would fall under that term, coming from Ottawa,” Semmler adds.

She says the announcement of the expanded priority groups still do not have Indigenous people without falling into all the other additional priority lists in other communities and urban centres.

“When will all Indigenous people be made a priority and added to this list that was publicly released yesterday and is defended by our federal Minister who is the one coordinating all of the vaccines going out to the territories, remote communities, and Indigenous communities?”

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Semmler says Inuvik in particular meets the criteria. It is a designated Gwich’in community under the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim, as well as an Inuvialuit community under the Inuvialuit Land Claim Agreement.

“It can’t get more Indigenous than that, can it?” she adds.

Minister of Health and Social Services Julie Green says HSS have been using advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to guide their vaccine strategy about identifying priority populations to vaccinate.

“The foundation of our priority groups is people who are at risk of severe disease from COVID-19 and people at risk of importing COVID-19,“ she adds.

Green says the reason Yellowknife, Hay River and Inuvik are not open to everyone is because of the larger population and the availability of vaccines not matching up at this point.

“We are waiting for another big shipment. At this point, every community has had two clinics, and every resident over 18 years old, except those in the three communities are eligible to receive the vaccine.”

To date, 4,558 NWT residents have been fully vaccinated from COVID-19.

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