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'Protect my community': Kahnawake teen feels relieved after getting vaccine

Last Updated Apr 24, 2021 at 11:58 am EDT

Gracie Diabo received her vaccine as part of a pilot project to vaccinate teens on the Kahnawake Reserve. (PHOTO: Supplied)

MONTREAL (CityNews) – For 17-year old Gracie Diabo, getting a COVID-19 vaccine was a no-brainer.

“I was so eager to get mine but it was going to end right before my birthday,” she told CityNews.

Gracie Diabo, who is from the Kahnawake First Nation 16 kilometers west of Montreal, said it was a big milestone to get vaccinated alongside her Mohawk community members, which she did just days before her 18th birthday.

She has become part of the small fraction of Canadian teens vaccinated against COVID-19.

More than 3,800 community members of the Kahnawake community were vaccinated during a month-long campaign at the Mohawk Bingo Hall.

That’s around 74 per cent of its population including teens as young as 16, which is the limit age for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“We are one of the first First Nations that were able to vaccinate 16- and 17-year-olds,” said Lisa Westaway, the executive director of the Kateri Memorial Hospital and co-lead of the COVID-19 task force.

In Quebec, 31.1 per cent of the population has been vaccinated with at least one dose and according to the government of Canada, more than 1,700 Quebecers under the age of 17 have received their first shot, 104 of whom are from Kahnawake.

“It was a really good turnout because that age category is not as easy to get engaged,” Westaway said.

“I also wanted to do it to protect my community,” Diabo added. “Hopefully move towards some sort of normalcy in the future. It also makes me feel more safe considering I also have to go to school sometimes for exams and tests and be surrounded with people I don’t know.”

“We are a higher level of risk because of higher chronic health conditions in the community in particular diabetes, heart disease, poverty rates [and] many reasons why we’re at a particular [risk]. And the quicker and the more armor we have against COVID-19, the better for our community,” Westaway added.

The vaccination campaign in Kahnawake is now over, but in Montreal vaccination for the urban Indigenous population has just begun with public health teaming up with Indigenous community groups for the initiative.

“If they’re in Montreal, we don’t want them travelling back to their [region] just to get vaccinated with the risk that brings to bring COVID into sometimes remote communities or communities that may have less access to medical [help],” Dr. David Kaiser with Montreal Public Health said.

“Even people who might have access in their communities, if they’re in Montreal, they have access, go get vaccinated and that way they’re also protecting their communities at the same time.”