Low turnout for vaccine in northern Alberta hamlet blamed on social media disinformation

While Fort Chipewyan, Alta., has seen half of its population vaccinated for COVID-19 with the first dose, the remainder is growing reluctant as misinformation spreads on social media, community leaders say. 

Of the 1,100 people who live in the hamlet, about 270 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, 576 have been vaccinated, said Peter Powder, chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

Community leaders have been hosting Facebook lives and townhalls with medical professionals for two weeks, trying to convince the remainder to get vaccinated, Powder said.

“I’m not really happy with the end result,” he said. “I think there’s lots of adults that could’ve taken it, but I don’t know if they understand the importance of it.” 

The First Nations did the best they could to advertise the vaccine, Powder said. “I don’t know if we could’ve done any more.” 

He said he was trying to convince the young adults to get the vaccine by highlighting its importance in protecting others, including elders. 

“You’re protecting your own community,” said Powder, who will be getting his second vaccine dose in two weeks.

‘That’s an alarming thing’

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation chief Allan Adam said a lot of the issues are from misinformation from social media. 

“A lot of people are believing social media, thinking that the vaccination is no good,” Adam said. 

He said some of his own relatives are refusing the shot because of rumours such as the second dose containing the COVID-19 virus itself. 

Adam said the situation is frustrating because the First Nations lobbied to get access to the vaccine and yet half of the resident remain vulnerable to COVID-19. 

“That’s an alarming thing,” he said. 

Adam said he would like to see more leaders, like mayors, councillors and chiefs getting immunized publicly in an effort to teach people about the benefits of the vaccine. 

“Education is a big factor,” Adam said. “People need to be aware of this vaccination, what it does and the benefits.” 

So far, Adam said, he’s satisfied with the vaccine rollout. 

Cardinal posted a photo himself getting the COVID-19 vaccine to encourage others to do the same. (Submitted by Kendrick Cardinal)

“I look at it this way, if one person out of 100 got the needle, I am happy for that person.”

While many people in the community don’t want the vaccine, “that’s their right; … you have to respect everybody’s wishes.” 

Kendrick Cardinal, president of Métis Local #125, posted a picture of himself getting the vaccine on Facebook to encourage others to get the shot. 

Cardinal said he’s “pretty pleased” with the number of people who got vaccinated. 

“Some people do want to take it. Some people are nervous,” Cardinal said. “Some people believe their body would fight [COVID-19] off, they’re not scared of it.” 

Residents will be able to get the second dose of the vaccine in early March. 

Cardinal said he’s unaware of any cases of adverse reactions to the vaccine in the community. 

Leaders in the community are meeting on Wednesday to discuss what to do with any unused vaccines, he said.

The Métis local is also setting up in Fort McMurray to vaccinate its members who no longer live in Fort Chipewyan. 

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