Community-wide vaccinations in Hazelton area hailed as "a sigh of relief”

Joshua Azizi


COVID-19 vaccine appointments opened up for all adults in the Upper Skeena area this week, and local community leaders say they were thrilled to hear the news.

Northern Health decided to take a community-wide approach to the region -- which includes the Hazeltons and surrounding Indigenous communities -- due to its remote location and a high per capita case rate that the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says is one of the highest in the province.

New Hazelton Mayor Gail Lowry has been volunteering at the local vaccine clinic. She described the news as "a sigh of relief" and added that the low amount of medical services in the region has meant some people have had to be sent elsewhere for medical care.

"We're a small community here, so we don't have the medical facilities here to cope. We have a small hospital -- a very competent hospital, don't get me wrong, but of course I think all the small hospitals are in the same position. We don't have the capacity to deal with these kind of outbreaks."

Gitanmaax Band Chief Councillor Tracey Woods said the arrival of vaccines for all adults in the region was the best news she'd heard in the past year. Although community-wide vaccinations already began in Gitanmaax last week, she said that vaccinating everyone in the surrounding communities will benefit them as well.

"We're not specifically dealing with just Indigenous communities. We're going to the local grocery stores in New Hazelton, we're going to the post office. So we do have daily interactions with our non-Indigenous neighbours and seeing that everybody has the opportunity to be vaccinated gives a bit of piece of mind, knowing that our lives are one step closer to returning to some kind of normal."

Earlier this month, the Gitanmaax Band Council voted to temporarily close Majagaleehl Gail Aks Elementary School after Northern Health reported a COVID-19 exposure at the school.

Woods also noted that since many Gitanmaax members are elders with underlying health conditions, the community is particularly vulnerable to the virus.

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