Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is closely monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases reported in First Nations communities across the country. Overall, active case counts continue to decline, with 1,443 active cases reported as of February 23, 2021.
While, to date, there has not been a confirmed case of a variant of concern on-reserve, we know that the variants first identified in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), and Brazil (P.1) are here, in Canada. Preliminary evidence demonstrates that the UK variant is associated with increased risk of transmission and disease severity. It is critical that everyone continue with physical distancing, wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and non-essential travel, staying home when sick, and keeping up with frequent hand, cough and surface hygiene. The combination of all these public health measures are required to stop the spread of the virus.
In First Nations communities, as of February 23, ISC is aware of:
- 20,347 confirmed positive COVID-19
- 1,443 active cases
- 18,684 recovered cases
- 220 deaths
There are a total of 40 confirmed positive cases in Nunavik, Quebec, and all but 8 have recovered. As of February 23, the Government of Nunavut is reporting 33 active cases in the Kivalliq Region, and a total of 351 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Of the 351 reported cases, 317 people have recovered from the virus.
As of February 18, 2021, more than 1.8 million Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been distributed across the country. As of February 23, 2021, more than 103,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in more than 449 First Nations, Inuit and Territorial communities.
Vaccines deliveries have ramped up, with more than 640,000 doses scheduled to arrive in Canada this week. Canada is still on track to receive 6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines by the end of March. On February 12, it was announced that Canada had negotiated an early delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech doses, which means that Canada will get 2.8 million additional doses of Pfizer-BioNTech between April and June. The change will ensure that all of Canada’s 40 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech will arrive before the end of September. The Government of Canada has also purchased an additional 4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, bringing the total number of secured Moderna doses to 44 million. Canada is expected to receive a total of 84 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines by the end of September 2021.
As we work to support vaccine administration in Indigenous communities, we are also supporting the vaccine roll out for Indigenous adults living in urban cities and towns across Canada. To this end, ISC is working closely with National Association of Friendship Centres, as well as provinces and territories, First Nation, Inuit and Métis partners, and other urban community service organizations to support planning efforts. This includes working to identify barriers, challenges and opportunities for increasing vaccine uptake and ensuring the vaccine is available in culturally safe and accessible locations. ISC is aware of vaccines already taking place in several urban centres, including Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Whitehorse and clinics are being planned in several others, including Saskatoon and Regina. Alberta and British Columbia are both actively working with Indigenous partners and local provincial public health units to plan for the provision of vaccine clinics in Friendship Centres and other suitable locations.
A number of federal partners, including the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), ISC and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, continue to work in collaboration with communities, provinces and territories in an effort to assess on-going community needs, and supports. Currently, the CAF is on the ground in several First Nation communities, including Pimicikamak in Manitoba, Fort Nelson First Nation in British Columbia, Hatchet Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan and Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation in Ontario, to help manage COVID-19 outbreaks and vaccine distribution.
As of February 14, 2021, 13 per cent of all doses administered in Saskatchewan have been administered in First Nations communities, and vaccine uptake is estimated at 75 per cent or greater for the majority of Saskatchewan First Nations communities. In Ontario, Weeneebayko and ORNGE, who are leading Operation Remote Immunity, are close to their end goal of having 70 per cent of Ontario’s northern First Nations community members vaccinated with a first dose.
In Nunatsiavut, Labrador, the second dose mass immunization clinic is complete across its five communities.
While vaccination is underway, we continue to support communities facing outbreaks. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, ISC has been actively engaged with the province, the Northwestern Health Unit, Kenora Chiefs Advisory and the First Nation to ensure immediate measures are taken to reduce the chances of further spread. This includes assessing community needs, and facilitating supports to assist with the community’s response to the current outbreak.
Additionally, ISC continues to support Indigenous communities and the impacts of COVID-19 on their population through partnerships and other innovative solutions. In some communities, ISC is supporting community leadership on addressing gaps in mental health and substance use services. ISC also continues to support communities by actively sending personal protective equipment and vaccine administration supplies and working with community health services to provide surge capacity and testing.