COVID-19 vaccination rate lower among urban Indigenous people, study finds. Why?
According to a new study, COVID-19 vaccination rates among Ontario’s urban Indigenous population were lower than those of the general population despite priority rollout.
Research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) on Tuesday found that between March 2020 and December 2021, taking the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine for First Nations, Inuit and Métis living in Toronto and in London, Ontario, was 20% lower than the overall population.
However, the study also showed that COVID-19 testing rates in both cities were 10% higher among the Indigenous community compared to local and provincial rates.
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The researchers looked at data from 1,087 Aboriginal people over the age of 15 in Toronto and London.
“Indigenous peoples were one of the top three priority groups for vaccine access in Ontario, along with healthcare workers and people who lived in long-term care homes, but despite this prioritization, we are still seeing significant shortcomings. said co-author Janet Smylie, family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and professor at the University of Toronto.
Recall rates for third doses also continue to lag for this group, she said.
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Barriers to accessing culturally safe health centers, systemic racism in hospitals, and lack of faith in biomedicine due to discriminatory colonial policies were responsible for declining immunization coverage, Smylie said.
As of last week, more than 86% of Canadians aged five and older have been fully immunized with two doses. And almost half of the total population was boosted by a third dose.
Jaris Swidrovich, a First Nations pharmacist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study, said he was concerned but not surprised by the low participation documented by the CMAJ research.
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He said a strong history of experimentation, current policies and practices such as forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women, and experiences with « racist health care » were all likely contributing factors.
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« There are certainly a number of very valid reasons why Indigenous people may choose to delay or not get vaccinated, » he said.
Because indigenous peoples have never been prioritized for other basic needs like clean water, housing and education, prioritizing vaccination during a global pandemic has raised skepticism and questions, Swidrovich added.
“Am I experimenting again? Do we first see how the vaccine works in us before it is offered to the general population across Canada? he said.
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First Nations communities across Canada have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to federal government data.
In January 2022, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 increased the rate of reported active cases, but it has since declined.
As of December 2021, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccine boosters for adults in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.
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Given the threat of another potential wave this fall and winter, Smylie said she was genuinely worried about the risks to the Indigenous community, especially those living in low-income and crowded settings.
Smylie said the best way to help increase vaccine uptake is to build on the community efforts and social networks that have helped combat mistrust of vaccines during the pandemic.
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Swidorich also pointed to the success of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in urban and non-urban settings where vaccines are offered in a more comfortable and culturally sensitive atmosphere.
He said public health messages and how vaccines are promoted to target groups are important.
“We have absolutely seen success in improving immunization rates for Indigenous people through Indigenous-led programs and Indigenous-led clinics, whether in urban or non-urban settings.
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