Pandemic restrictions on Six Nations are loosening as the community moved into alert level orange on Friday, allowing for larger outdoor gatherings and indoor gatherings and no travel restrictions for community members.
Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council has yet to approve an extensive pandemic re-opening plan that looks to have at least 60 per cent of the community vaccinated before lifting all restrictions.
Sara Smith, Six Nations Health Services epidemiologist, presented the plan to elected council last Tuesday, saying, “The priority has always been to protect our people.”
The re-opening plan was created in May 2020 but has been updated to reflect the changes in the pandemic since last year.
The plan puts an emphasis on vaccine coverage among the Six Nations population to ease all pandemic restrictions in the community.
At least two councillors, and elected Chief Mark Hill, stressed that many Six Nations people will not be getting the Covid vaccine and that inoculation percentages should not be a condition for easing restrictions.
The total amount of all Six Nations people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine to date is 35 per cent, with adults 18 and over at 45 per cent, council heard.
However, Smith noted that many Six Nations members have gone off reserve to receive their vaccinations, which could skew those numbers.
She said about 500 people have reported that they received their vaccinations off-reserve and she encouraged community members to report to Six Nations Public Health if they received a vaccine off-reserve.
“Anyone who has received a Covid-19 vaccine, please report this to Ohsweken Public Health,” Smith said. “We are trying to increase the accuracy of this data as much as possible. This is where it stands at this time.”
Compared to the province of Ontario, more Six Nations people are fully vaccinated with both doses of the Covid vaccine.
Provincially, about five per cent of people have received both doses of the vaccine, whereas 29 per cent of on-reserve Six Nations members are fully vaccinated.
“While we do still have a large portion of the community unvaccinated, we will need to maintain public health restrictions and take a slow and cautious approach as we review restrictions,” Smith told council.
Vaccine percentages are part of the criteria for Six Nations changing its alert levels, she said.
The province has a similar system in place, with Ontario setting a benchmark of 61 per cent of people receiving the first dose of the vaccine before entering stage three of its re-opening plan, which would allow the resumption of indoor dining and indoor religious services, among others.
Smith said all alert levels on Six Nations will cease once Covid-19 is no longer a threat that causes severe illness or death on Six Nations. Other criteria for ending the alerts include no new virus subtypes detected among humans; the virus has mutated to a less virulent form; effective treatments are available; and/or herd immunity has been achieved by global consensus.
“The threshold for herd immunity is not known,” she said. “There is no consensus on what that looks like.”
Six Nations Director of Health Services Lori Davis-Hill encouraged people to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We don’t want to move too quickly,” she said of re-opening the community. “We don’t want to make mistakes, so that we’re able to respond if we do have another spike in cases.”
Davis-Hil said she acknowledges there is vaccine hesitancy on Six Nations.
“Vaccinations are not mandatory but the more people we have vaccinated, the safer the entire community becomes,” she said. “Knowing that we have a community that has some resistance to getting vaccinated, what we wanted to build into the framework was that we see a consistent continuation of uptake in vaccines.”
Elected Chief Mark Hill said they respect people’s decisions not to get the vaccine.
“We have a big area of individuals who look to rely on their own traditional medicines and what they see best for themselves,” he said, adding that Six Nations should not have to consider vaccination numbers to determine easing pandemic restrictions.
“This is exactly why we have decided to maintain our own framework (for re-opening),” said Chief Hill. “We’ve said loud and clear vaccines are not mandatory. Just because the province is looking to reach a certain percentage to get to a certain stage of their re-opening doesn’t meant that we have to do the same thing.”
Elected Council agreed to move the community into alert level orange but held off an approving the revised pandemic re-opening plan until further discussion.