Public Health Nurse Sophie Mack carrying the first batch of the COVID-19 Moderna vaccine. 
(Caitlin Thompson photo)

Public Health Nurse Sophie Mack carrying the first batch of the COVID-19 Moderna vaccine. (Caitlin Thompson photo)

First vaccines roll out for Nuxalk elders, hospital staff and long-term care residents

The Moderna vaccine arrived in Bella Coola on Sunday, Jan. 17

The community is breathing a huge sigh of relief as the first doses of Moderna vaccine arrived after experiencing the biggest spike in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. As of Monday afternoon (Jan. 18) the Nuxalk Emergency Operations Centre was reporting 58 cases.

The vaccines arrived via Pacific Coastal with Vancouver Coastal Health staff on Sunday, Jan. 17 and were blessed at the Nuxalk Hall on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 19. They were rolled out in a vaccine clinic at the hall for on-reserve elders 65 years and older that same day.

“I am so excited this is happening,” said FNHA public health nurse Sophie Mack.

Nuxalk Chief Wally Webber was one of the first to receive the vaccine. Webber, who is an elder as well as a hereditary and elected chief, took his first dose from Nuxalk Public Health Nurse Sophie Mack. Hereditary Chief and community paramedic Jeffrey Snow was also on hand to receive his vaccine, as well as being on standby as a paramedic in case anyone had an allergic reaction.

The first elder to receive the vaccine was 85 year-old Caroline Mack, who said was “determined” to get the shot. Mack, who was born in Bella Coola in 1935, said she lives alone and was feeling good about being one of the first people to receive the vaccine locally.

“I had pneumonia last year and I was really sick in the hospital for two weeks,” Mack shared. “I was determined to get the vaccine.”

The turn out for this first clinic for elders was good, with many people waiting outside and a steady stream coming in to be vaccinated.

Vancouver Coastal Health also vaccinated its front-line staff and long-term care residents in the Bella Coola General Hospital.

“We expect to begin vaccinations as early as next week,” said Vancouver Coastal Health said in an email on Jan. 15. “Our COVID-19 immunization program continues to prioritize those most vulnerable to COVID-19, including residents, staff and essential visitors at long-term care homes. Eligible staff include direct care and support staff who have regularly worked in long-term care facilities during the pandemic.”

After enjoying a relatively quiet 2020, it was an alarming first two weeks in January 2021 as SD49 faced an exposure at Nusatsum Elementary School and there was also a self-disclosed positive case at Bella Coola Elementary. Acwsalcta School also issued an exposure alert, but VCH did not list any public exposures in the community. Cases rose daily; at one point 15 positive cases were recorded in one day.

SD49 suspended face-to-face instruction as of Jan. 11, but was open for students requiring extra support or care while remote instruction is being led by educators.

Public health nurses were joined by additional staff and offered testing 7 days a week rotating through both the hospital and the Nuxalk Administration office. A checkpoint was activated on-reserve to restrict people’s movements in another attempt to stop the spread.