Ottawa’s Akausivik centre has vaccinated more than 700 Ontario Inuit

Team now giving shots to up to 70 Inuit per day

All Inuit adults are eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines from Akausivik’s vaccination clinic, which started this past Feb. 17 in partnership with Ottawa Public Health, using both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. (Nunatsiaq News file photo)

By Jim Bell

An Ottawa-based COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Inuit that started last month had vaccinated more than 700 people as of March 4, a clinic spokesperson told Nunatsiaq News.

And the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team is now giving shots to more than 70 Ontario Inuit per day, said Dick Gordon, a clinic spokesperson.

“Some people are driving in from hundreds of kilometres away,” Gordon said, adding he knows of one Inuit family who came all the way in from Gravenhurst, Ont., about 185 kilometres north of Toronto.

Akausivik’s vaccination clinic started Feb. 17, in partnership with Ottawa Public Health, using both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

All Inuit adults, including family members and caregivers, are eligible to get shots at the Akausivik clinic, with priority given to Inuit 55 and over, or who are at risk.

Anyone who wants to get vaccinated needs to prove they’re an Inuk, either with an ID card, some form of paperwork or having someone else vouch for them, Gordon said.

But in a community where just about everyone knows everyone else, that’s not a problem.

“Any questions of eligibility are easy to resolve,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the vaccines they’re using have an extremely short shelf-life once their taken out of cold storage — which means logistics are crucial.

Clinic staff must ensure they receive the right number of doses and that all doses delivered at the start of the day must be used by the end of the day, Gordon said.

To ensure that urban Inuit in Ontario get priority in the distribution of vaccines, Akausivik staff have been “working intensely with federal, provincial, and local health authorities,” a Feb. 21 news release said.

But securing enough COVID-19 vaccines to immunize urban Inuit represents a “significant milestone” in Akausivik’s response to the pandemic.

The risk of COVID-19 among Inuit is considered to be extreme, Akausivik said. For example, during the H1N1 influenza pandemic, Inuit suffered rates of mortality and complications 14 times higher than the general population in Canada.

The size of Ottawa’s Inuit population is fluid and difficult to estimate, but likely ranges between about 3,000 and 5,000 people.

Under the first phase of the Ontario government’s vaccination rollout plan, which started in December, all Indigenous adults living in the province are supposed to get their first dose of vaccine by the end of March.

The Akausivik vaccine clinic is located at 24 Selkirk St. in Vanier and is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday.

To book an appointment, call Akausivik at 613-740-0999.

Also, Tungasuvvingat Inuit is offering transportation to Inuit in Ottawa who need help getting to their COVID-19 vaccine appointment. For information on how to book a ride, follow this link.

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