A national Inuit women’s organization is calling on Inuit women and families across Canada to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said Wednesday she has already received two doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Speaking from her home in Baker Lake, Nunavut, Kudloo said she is happy that Inuit across the country have had access to at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to date.
But she also said Inuit continue to face systemic racism in the health-care system and have many reasons to be hesitant about getting the COVID-19 shot.
“In Baker Lake, we have a small health clinic and overcrowded housing is a chronic problem,” Kudloo told a news conference.
Kudloo lit a candle and held a moment of silence for Silatik Qavvik, a 35-year-old woman from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, who died from COVID-19 complications after she travelled to Winnipeg to give birth last November.
Connie Siedule, executive director of the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Centre in Ottawa, said life expectancy for Inuit is 10 to 17 years less than the general population.
“Tuberculosis and lower respiratory tract infection rates for Inuit are amongst the highest anywhere, even compared with the highest rates globally,” Siedule said.
Siedule said Inuit living in urban centres face a serious risk of health consequences related to COVID-19, and she urged Inuit to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
The health centre is currently offering first doses of the vaccine to Inuit living in Ottawa.
“I have not actually experienced so many Inuit so happy to receive a shot before. … There is hope and recovery in sight,” Siedule said.
As part of its vaccination awareness campaign, Pauktuutit also launched a social media campaign to encourage Inuit youth to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Annie Buscemi, an Inuk social media influencer and apprentice electrician living in Iqaluit, is featured in the campaign’s most recent video to promote vaccinations. Buscemi is also a mental health advocate who is known for her daily videos on TikTok.
“Knowing that so many Inuit have a chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine makes me feel so grateful, that by getting the vaccine we can protect ourselves, protect our elders and our whole community,” Buscemi said.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the federal government prioritized northern and Inuit communities for the vaccine because of their vulnerability to the virus.
“We know that Inuit populations have been particularly affected by the effects of the pandemic because of limited access to health care and socioeconomic factors.”
Pauktuutit’s vaccination awareness campaign is funded by a $340,000 grant from Women and Gender Equality Canada, and includes newspaper and radio ads, along with a social media campaign.