Indigenous northerners in territorial capitals less likely to report getting vaccinated than non-Indigenous northerners, StatCan survey suggests

Good information in Inuktut could help overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Inuit, says Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk, as its clinic in Iqaluit prepares to open Wednesday.

“There are people that have vaccination hesitancy and I recognize that it’s a personal choice,” she said in an interview, “but I think part of addressing that is to provide good information in Inuktut.”

NTI’s vaccination clinic runs from Wednesday to Saturday at the curling clinic. It will be open from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. and will offer the Moderna vaccine to people 18 years and older as well as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for youth between the ages of 12 and 17.

“We’re hoping that there will be a lot of Inuit uptake of the vaccines,” Kotierk said.

NTI has been working with the Nunatsiavut government to have some of its Inuit nurses help out with the clinic alongside Inuit nurses from Nunavut, she said.

Indigenous northerners less likely to report getting vaccinated

Earlier this month, Statistics Canada released the results of a COVID-19 survey that found Indigenous northerners in territorial capital cities were roughly 20 per cent less likely to report getting vaccinated than non-Indigenous northerners.

The survey was conducted between March 15 and April 12, after all residents in each of the three territories aged 18 and older were eligible for a vaccine.

It asked adults in Iqaluit, Whitehorse and Yellowknife if they had been vaccinated and to share their knowledge and beliefs about the vaccines.

In the capitals combined, 83 per cent of non-Indigenous adults reported that they had obtained at least one vaccination dose compared to 64 per cent of Indigenous adults.

Because of the small number of responses, StatCan said vaccination rates for Indigenous people cannot be published by capital city.

Non-Indigenous northerners making under $90,000 a year were 10 per cent less likely to be vaccinated than those earning more. At the same time, 85 per cent of those with a post-secondary degree received a first dose, compared to 68 per cent of residents with no post-secondary education.

The gaps for Indigenous northerners were larger.

Less than half of Indigenous adults without any post-secondary education had reported receiving a vaccine compared to 80 per cent of those with that education. Similarly, Indigenous northerners with higher incomes were 20 per cent more likely to be vaccinated than lower-income earners.

There were also differences in vaccine trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous northerners.

Indigenous adults were more than twice as likely than non-Indigenous adults to express a distrust of COVID-19 vaccines because they were developed too quickly. At the same time, Indigenous adults were 10 per cent less likely to agree with the statement that, in general, vaccines are safe.

Although StatCan said that these numbers may explain some of the differences in vaccination rates, it also says that it does not account for the entirety of the gap because the reasons for not getting vaccinated are “numerous and complex.”

’We need to be prioritized’

Although Kotierk was not familiar with the findings of the Statistics Canada survey, she said that the vaccination numbers have never been clear, adding that this is even more the case now that the Government of Nunavut includes non-residents like rotational workers in its regularly updated vaccine statistics.

“More and more the question [became] ‘well, how many of the vaccinated individuals are Inuit and how many are not Inuit,’” she said.

“Part of the reason for thinking about that is because we advocated very strongly that as Inuit communities, we need to be prioritized to be given the vaccination because so many of us live under circumstances that would increase the possibilities of spreading COVID-19.”

On April 14, when the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Iqaluit, 13,877 Nunavummiut had received at least one dose of the Moderna vaccine and 10,015 had received both.

Two months later, on June 14, there were 18,009 people in Nunavut who had been given at least one dose of the vaccine with 15,808 fully vaccinated.

With the Pfizer vaccinations for youth across the territory beginning this week and continuing through July, those numbers are expected to go up, aided by the recent announcement that fully vaccinated travellers will no longer have to spend two weeks in an isolation hotel before entering the territory.

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