London’s culturally aware Indigenous vaccination program underway at Agriplex site

System navigators in place to help Indigenous Peoples access dedicated appointments and spaces

Chanda Doxtator, Traditional Healing Liaison, SOAHAC.

March 17, 2021

System navigators are in place to help Indigenous Peoples access dedicated appointments and spaces

Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Metis and Inuit) in London and area can now access culturally aware COVID-19 vaccination services at the Western Fair Agriplex as part of a collaboration by the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Network (SOAHAC) and London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). 

The program, which began March 8, encourages Indigenous Peoples to self-identify to a greeter or registration clerk upon arrival at the Agriplex clinic for their booked appointment. They then have the opportunity for their vaccine to be administered in a dedicated space by an Indigenous vaccinator. This dedicated space was opened with a sacred tobacco ceremony. 

 “We are grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with the SOAHAC team to provide a safe and culturally inclusive environment for Indigenous Peoples as part of our commitment to ensure respect, equality and safety in all of our hospital environments,” said April Mullen, Director, Agriplex COVID-19 Vaccination Centre, LHSC.

LHSC is responsible for overseeing the full scope of vaccination operations at the Agriplex. In the first week of the program, 259 Indigenous individuals have received their vaccinations.

Indigenous adults are a priority group identified with the Government of Ontario’s vaccine strategy. They experience chronic health conditions at a rate that is between 2 and 10 times higher than the general population, which has been linked to disproportionate levels of poverty, adverse living conditions and racism, and are therefore more likely to be adversely affected by COVID-19.

Culturally aware care encourages intentional and respectful awareness about differences between cultures and acknowledges these differences in the provision of health care. It also recognizes that because of systemic racism and prejudice within the health-care system, there is a lack of trust by Indigenous people in the system, which may contribute to hesitancy around seeking care. 

Indigenous vaccinator, Laura Mennen, says the program has been warmly received by Indigenous peoples who have attended the clinic, and that the experience is now being shared within Indigenous communities.

“Our Indigenous patients are saying that they feel comfortable and acknowledged because of the space provided, including access to traditional medicines and the option to speak with a traditional healer after their vaccinations,” said Mennen. “We are hearing that clinic attendees are now sharing this positive experience with their family and friends, and helping to create awareness and overcome some existing hesitancy.”

“This culturally aware program at the Agriplex acknowledges the dire need to vaccinate the region’s Indigenous population and the barriers they may experience in accessing vaccines, says Brian Dokis, Chief Executive Officer of SOAHAC.

“We know that Indigenous peoples may have greater hesitancy about vaccines, given our history with the health-care system. This collaboration is key to allowing us to reach more of the Indigenous population more quickly and will help improve some health outcomes for the communities we serve.”

In addition to dedicated Indigenous staff to administer the vaccines, SOAHAC also has in place two system navigators who are fully dedicated to providing vaccine information and helping Indigenous Peoples book their appointments. They can be accessed through a toll-free number (1-833-927-0197) or by email (covvax@soahac.on.ca).