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Tears of excitement: COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Alert Bay

First doses administered in remote North Island community
Mary Cook was the first vaccine recipient in Alert Bay on Jan. 5, administered by ‘Namgis Community Health Nurse Nicole James. (Gina Wadhams photo)

The first Vancouver Island community to get punched in the face by COVID-19 is also one of the first to punch back.

The first Tuesday of the new year saw residents of remote Cormorant Island — home of the ‘Namgis First Nation and the village of Alert Bay — receiving their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

‘Namgis First Nation Communications Coordinator Gina Wadhams said the response from locals in the island community just off Port McNeill has been enthusiastic, and the staff are busy injecting their way through a full line-up of appointments.

“I’m so excited. I almost cried taking these pictures,” Wadhams said, who has an appointment later this week to get the vaccine. “To me, in this world we’re living in, why wouldn’t you [get the vaccine]? I have elderly parents, I have grandchildren who live with me.”

Hank Nelson took his dose with a smile. (Gina Wadhams photo)

The small community of Alert Bay suffered an outbreak of the virus early in the pandemic. Thirty people were confirmed sick, and one person passed away.

Island leadership, made up of ‘Namgis First Nation’s hereditary and elected Chief Don Svanvik, Alert Bay Mayor Dennis Buchanan, and the Whe-La-La-U Area Council chairman Andrew Speck, enacted a state of emergency in April, prohibiting any non-residents from coming onto the island, except essential workers. The lockdown and 9:30 p.m. curfew lasted for three weeks.

Those restrictions, paired with immediate contact tracing and well over 100 COVID-19 tests, helped squash the outbreak by mid-May.

Alert Bay remained cautious, but lifted its travel ban for a subdued tourist season.

The first dose of the vaccine is being administered by appointment at the ‘Namgis Health Centre until Jan. 7. Recipients will be given an appointment card to receive the second dose in February.

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READ MORE: Remote B.C. First Nations to begin getting Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine this week

READ MORE: Vaccine arrives for COVID-19-battered Vancouver Island First Nations

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Eric Hunter receiving the first of two recommended doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine at the ‘Namgis Health Centre on Jan. 5. (Gina Wadhams photo)
Stevie Cook got his first dose of the Moderna vaccine at the ‘Namgis Health Centre on Jan. 5. (Gina Wadhams photo)
’Namgis Community Health Nurse Nicole James (left) smiling with Mary Cook (right) who received the first COVID-19 vaccine on Alert Bay on Jan. 5. (Gina Wadhams photo)