Northern Diaries: Vaccine Clinics and Operation Remote Immunity!

COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been one of my favourite parts of my job so far. I’ve heard that down south they’ve gotten a little angry a few times, but everyone who has come through here in town and in community has been happy and excited to get vaccinated. Even if they are scared, they are so happy to have a chance at getting back to normal that they are happy to be there and see us. In the communities we also had a larger portion of patients who mentioned that someone at home had COVID-19 or had died from COVID-19, which was sad, but they were so galvanized, it was really nice to see and experience.

I got to go up to North Spirit Lake First Nation and Deer Lake First Nation, they are both fly-in communities on Treaty 5 territory in Ontario. They are both Oji-Cree communities in Northwestern Ontario near the Manitoba border. Oji-Cree, so we were told in Deer Lake, is the result of inter-marriage between the Ojibwe and Cree peoples of Northwester Ontario. As they are both fly-in communities, we and Ornge flew in and out each day, with some Canadian Forces members and Canadian Rangers spending the week in the communities. I’m not certain why we flew in and out every day, but my guess would be that there isn’t accommodation or facilities for us. For Ornge, it makes sense as the vaccines have to be kept frozen until they are needed. Because of that, however, I had a lot of time to take pictures from the plane.

Ornge is the kind of air ambulance service of the province. They do emergency and planned medivacs all across the province and help move patients that need urgent care at a more advanced facility.

Views from the plane

This was such a cool way to see some of the land up here. It’s a tiny plane and not a huge distance so you’re not super high so you can really see the land you are flying over. There are so many lakes up here, which I knew, the maps will show you that. But it is different to see it on a map and then to be flying over it and watching these pristine, barely accessible lakes and beaches. Like some seriously stunning beaches that are probably basically untouched by humans.

The vaccine clinic at North Spirit Lake, it’s a relatively small community, we were only expecting about 30-40 people to come to the vaccine clinic. It also gave me more time to take pictures and chat to people those days. I didn’t get any pictures of the Deer Lake clinic set up because it was a much bigger and much busier community. In North Spirit we vaccinated 18 kids the first day and then 12 people (I think there were a couple adults that day). And then in Deer Lake we vaccinated about 68 people the first day and 56 the second day. Which was only a bit more than half of the eligible community, but we talked to a lot more people about the vaccine and hopefully gave some of them some thing to think about for when we come back in July for all of these people to get their second doses.

Both clinics were in the community’s schools. They were gorgeous schools, great libraries and the Deer Lake school’s home economics facilities were really cool, a little dated, but better than I had ever seen before. However, it was, interesting doesn’t seem quite right, to then start to talk to and engage with the youth of the community. Now, I did not talk to every patient and not every kid in the community came through. But in Canada, vaccines can only be given as young as 12, which would put the youngest of these kids in 7th grade. However, their practical literacy levels did not seem to be a 7th grade literacy level. Some of them seemed to really struggle to write their own names, didn’t know their phone numbers, I couldn’t tell if it was apathy or not knowing. But it definitely seemed a contrast with the school building.

After our first day we were expecting some rough skies on the way back to Sioux Lookout so Ornge gave me a puke bag for the way back since I had felt so sick on the way there.
The “airport”
North Spirit Lake has been under a boil water advisory for over 2 years now. That is actually short for the boil water advisories in place around the First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario.
The younger kids get dragged these poor pups around each day. They were so tired, poor things.

Forest Fires:

There were several forest fires popping up around Northwestern Ontario, we flew right over one that I didn’t get a picture of. We also flew by a water bomber and bird dog working a fire, but I slept right through it. As I have learned since I moved up here, a bird dog is the plane or helicopter that keeps track of where the water bomber is dropping water and where all the on-the-ground fire fighters are, so that no one has literal tons of water dropped on them.

It was such an amazing and enlightening experience to get to see a couple of the communities that we serve. I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to see an area of the country that so many people, including me, would never even consider going to. It was incredibly eye-opening. I’m really looking forward to getting to go back up for second doses, and maybe even for the little kids when they get approved!


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