Interior Health nurses were administering COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aides in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. In Salmon Arm on March 11, guests, staff and support personnel at the Salvation Army's Lighthouse Shelter at McGuire Lake were vaccinated. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)

No link between colonialism and vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous people: expert

166,000 doses of COVID-18 vaccines administered in 538 First Nations, says Indigenous Services Canada

There is no evidence that Canada’s history of colonialism has made Indigenous people any more hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 than the general population, says an Indigenous studies professor casting a critical eye on the oft-repeated theory.

The federal government is among those who have suggested colonialism and systemic racism have fostered mistrust in vaccines. But Veldon Coburn, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies, says available data on vaccine hesitancy suggest that is not the case.

“The historic events that were bad and unethical … didn’t have the same or the effect that’s being claimed and maybe it’s just naive good intentions but it doesn’t stand up,” Coburn said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Coburn says there’s no evidence of a causal link between vaccine hesitancy and the historical and intergenerational trauma Indigenous people feel live with because of residential schools and other colonialist practices.

Nutrition experiments that were performed on Indigenous children at several Ontario residential schools in the mid-1940s are unlikely to have any effect on Indigenous people who are alive now, said Coburn. He is a member of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, located about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa.

“I’m Indigenous,” he said. “My grandparents went to Indian residential school. None of this was sort of transmitted.”

Coburn noted newborns in Indigenous communities get vaccinated routinely.

“We get needles all the time,” he said. “It is not a traumatic experience.”

But while acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines is surprisingly high in some Indigenous communities, Dr. Evan Adams, deputy chief medical officer at Indigenous Services Canada, said there is some hesitation in other places.

“We’re hearing a number of issues. Some as mundane as ‘I felt a little tired after the first vaccine’ … to experimentations happening on them or there are some really unsavoury products within the vaccine,” he told a virtual news conference Wednesday.

Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said some Inuit might be hesitant because of their historic mistreatment by the government.

“Even in the present day, systemic racism that Inuit experience in the health-care system — that might be the reason,” she said.

Indigenous Services Canada said the long-standing history of colonization and systemic racism in Canada has created a mistrust in the health-care system among Indigenous communities, including a mistrust of vaccines.

“We are working with all partners to increase cultural safety and respect for Indigenous Peoples when planning for the COVID-19 vaccine and addressing hesitancy around the vaccine,” said Adrienne Vaupshas, spokesperson for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.

Vaupshas said the department has developed culturally appropriate messaging to raise awareness of the vaccine and promote uptake, including the translation of documents to Indigenous languages, social media posts and broadcast scripts.

Yet the available data suggest that vaccine hesitancy is not more pronounced in Indigenous communities than non-Indigenous communities.

In 2010, Health Canada surveyed First Nations on reserve and Inuit after the H1N1 pandemic and found that about 97 per cent of reserve residents and nearly 94 per cent of Inuit said childhood vaccinations were important.

“If there were any effects from residential schools, it would’ve showed up in 2010 during the same conditions. There was none,” said Coburn, who also recently shared his views in an article published by The Conversation and distributed by The Canadian Press.

Coburn said there isn’t much of a difference in vaccination acceptance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people when it comes to getting flu shots.

The 2017-18 Canadian Community Health Survey showed that 55 per cent of Indigenous people had a seasonal flu vaccine compared to 59 per cent of non-Indigenous people, he said.

He said the World Health Organization, through its strategic advisory group of experts on immunization, vaccine hesitancy and acceptance after H1N1, has noted that vaccination is a very complex decision that people make individually and not at the population level.

Coburn said there’s a “cultural zeitgeist” at the moment that’s made many people think Indigenous people are “very delicate” and need others to care for them.

“It’s sort of a self-flagellation from certain segments of the population: … We’ve got to be very gentle with (Indigenous Peoples) because very bad things happen to them in the past and it’s going to hinder our pandemic response,” he said.

“They sort of invented an injury that didn’t exist, and they want to be the crutch.”

An online survey by Angus Reid in British Columbia earlier this month suggested Indigenous people are more willing to get the vaccine than the general population.

Sixty-eight per cent of respondents who self-identified as Indigenous said they would get the COVID-19 vaccine when available and 16 per cent said they would wait awhile at first but would eventually get the shot.

That was slightly higher than the survey results among the general population, in which 66 per cent of the respondents said they will get a COVID-19 vaccine when available and 17 per cent said they would eventually get it.

More than 166,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in 538 First Nations, northern and Inuit communities as of March 12, according to Indigenous Services Canada.

“This represents 54 doses administered per 100 adults in First Nations and Inuit communities in provinces, and adult residents in the territories,” Vaupshas said.

Coburn said the majority of Indigenous people want to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“My friends and family, even on my reserve, they can’t wait to get that needle, and they’re like, ‘Bring it right now, I’ll inject myself,’” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

BGC Cranbrook will renovate a facility to relocate 24 existing spaces and add 24 new spaces with support from the Trust. Photo courtesy Columbia Basin Trust.
Grant funding to help create new childcare spaces in Cranbrook

Columbia Basin Trust providing $10,000 to BGC Cranbrook to help renovate new facility

Earlier this spring, the City of Cranbrook started positioning components of the Stormceptor system to carry storm runoff to Elizabeth Lake from the Innes Avenue neighbourhood. Photo submitted
Stormceptor will bring clean run-off to Elizabeth Lake

The City of Cranbrook is installing new infrastructure to handle the Innes Avenue neighbourhood, but go easy on Elizabeth lake

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read