While only about 0.2 per cent of teens have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in Canada, a First Nation in Quebec included them in its mass vaccination campaign.
Gracie Diabo from Kahnawake, Que., received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine a few days before her 18th birthday last week as the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community wrapped up its month-long mass vaccination clinic.
“I wanted to get vaccinated because I believe it is the right thing to do to protect myself and my community against the virus,” said Diabo, who is completing her first year at John Abbott College.
“My family already received theirs before me so I was excited to get mine. I feel super grateful to have the vaccine, considering some of my non-Native friends don’t have access yet.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved in Canada for use in people 16 and older. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, only 1,752 people under the age of 17 have been vaccinated in Quebec.
In Kahnawake, 104 16- and 17-year-olds were vaccinated.
A total of 3,872 people were vaccinated at the mass clinic over the span of a month, representing 74 per cent of eligible community members. The centre is now closed and is expected to resume operations in mid-June for those requiring their second dose.
“Overall, the more people that are vaccinated in our community, the safer we all,” said Lisa Westaway, executive director of the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre and member of Kahnawake’s COVID-19 Task Force.
Westaway said it was important secure a shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech in order for the teenagers to have an opportunity to be vaccinated as well.
“With COVID fatigue and summer coming, we know there are potential risks for this age group — not necessarily more or less than other ages but I think this age group feels a little bit more invincible — so the more that we can get them vaccinated, the safer for them and for their families and loved ones,” she said.
Kahnawake schools have mostly been doing online learning and Westaway said it’s had an impact on youth. She hopes that vaccinating teens will impact decisions about graduation ceremonies and celebrations this summer, and how local schools move forward in the coming school year.
For 17-year-old Adrianna Montour, going to school outside of Kahnawake has been a concern all year and was one of the reasons why she booked her vaccination appointment.
“One of my biggest fears was that I would get the virus from someone else at my school and then I’d bring it into the community,” she said.
“That was one of my biggest fears for a while and it still is but has eased up a tiny bit now that I’ve gotten the vaccine. It’s nice knowing that I was lucky enough to have that opportunity and that I was able to get it right away . . . . Even if it’s not 100 per cent effective, there is still something there that will help.”