Six Nations is bracing itself for Omicron variant with worst case rates, lowest vaccine rates in Ontario

Six Nations Health Services is urging the community to take COVID precautions seriously as a newly-identified variant of concern has world health officials concerned.

Not only has the new Omicron variant raised concerns from health officials, but Six Nations also faces two other COVID-related threats: the community currently has the highest per capita positive COVID caseload in the all of Ontario, and the lowest vaccination rate in the province.

“The World Health Organization (has) defined what variants are considered a variant of concern based on ability to spread from person-to-person, cause more severe illness, reduced effectiveness of vaccines, diagnostic tests, and therapeutics,” said Six Nations Health Services Director Lori Davis-Hill. “Omicron has been identified as a variant of concern because it has mutations that could make it spread easier, and cause more severe illness and evade our immune systems. Current studies are underway to determine vaccine efficacy, testing, and treatment solutions.”

There are currently no plans to raise the community’s alert level from orange (high) to red or black. Red and Black alert levels impose more severe restrictions on gatherings.

To date, 15 community members have died of COVID-19. As of press time, there are 52 active cases of COVID-19 in the community with another 153 people in self-isolation. Three people are in hospital.

For perspective, that translates to a case rate of 328 per 100,000 people. Toronto Public Health is currently reporting a case rate of 22 per 100,000.

What’s more, only 47 per cent of on-reserve community members are vaccinated. The provincial rate is around 75 per cent.

Davis-Hill recommends booster shots to those eligible (boosters are recommended six months after the first dose of the vaccine) and says health experts are still determining how effective current vaccines are against the Omicron variant.

“Boosters raise antibody levels which strengthens the body’s defenses so it is important to maximize protection for yourself,” said Davis-Hill. “As Omicron is a new variant, researchers are looking to understand how it will impact vaccine effectiveness. Current vaccines continue to be effective against the dominant circulating variant at protecting against severe illness and death from COVID-19 and if you have been vaccinated greater than six months it is recommended you get a booster shot to maximize your protection.”

She also recommended community members continue to wear masks and practice physical distancing.

“Our message remains consistent – each individual should be doing their own personal risk assessment before they engage in any activity inside or outside their home and following public health measures,” said Davis-Hill. “Recent guidance has moved to suggesting that three-layer masks are more protective, so we are working on a revised communication around that.”

“We are monitoring the scientific and public health reports on the Omicron variant, cases in Canada, and the decisions being made around the world to slow the spread.”

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