Southern Albertans offered COVID-19 vaccines at Montana border

The Blackfeet Nation in Montana was at the Peigan-Carway border crossing on Tuesday and Wednesday, administering COVID-19 vaccines to members of the Blackfoot Confederacy and residents of the nearby town of Cardston, Alta.

According to James McNeely, the public information officer with the Blackfeet Tribe in Browning, Mont., it was a surplus of doses on the southern side of the border that prompted the reserve to contact Canadian officials to offer vaccines to Alberta band members.

“We started having some discussion about that about a month ago,” McNeely said. “We threw this together in the last seven, eight days and it really fell together.”

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McNeely said the Montana band contacted Health Canada, provincial and state officials, and leaders of the Alberta Blackfoot First Nations to get the ball rolling, adding a vast majority of Montana band members have received both doses.

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“Of a population of 7,000, out of the 10,000 which are adults over 18 that can be vaccinated, we moved fairly quickly,” he added.

“We’re probably at about 98 per cent (fully) vaccinated here on our reservation.”

The mobile vaccination site was set up in a drive-thru format, where participants aged 16 and older would drive up to the Carway crossing, provide their passport or status card, and received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

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Anyone coming to receive their second dose was also required to show their record of immunization.

McNeely said there were approximately 750 total doses available.

“We see it as an opportunity to help those in need and that’s how First Nations people are on both sides of the border.”

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Since cars were turned directly around to head back into Canada, anyone who participated was exempt from the 14-day mandatory quarantine period for travellers returning to Canada.

On Wednesday, those in the Cardston area — 20 minutes away from the crossing — were also welcome to get their shots.

“I saw it on Facebook yesterday. There was a posting by the town,” said resident Alethia Schnoor, who received her first dose of Moderna on Wednesday morning.

As a staff member of a medical clinic, Schnoor was eligible for the vaccine locally, but jumped on the opportunity for immunization.

“I’d registered but hadn’t gotten a call to get a shot yet, so I thought: ‘I’ll go get it done,’ and yeah I was pretty happy to do it.”

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Rick Schow also heard about the vaccine offering online and was able to receive his second dose earlier than expected.

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“Just really, really happy to have it over with,” he said. “It went very smooth and everybody was just first-rate, very pleasant, very upbeat, very kind.”

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In an email, Bonnie Healy, the health director for the Blackfoot Confederacy, told Global News the mobile clinic was a “great success,” and no one who attended was turned away.

“We pulled the medicine line clinic together fairly quickly and worked with Indigenous Services Canada; Health Canada; Public Health Agency of Canada; Canadian Border Services; USA Border; and the Blackfoot Confederacy, Amskapi Piikani; Siksika, Piikani and Kainai,” the email read.

With the program ending on Wednesday afternoon, McNeely says the nation hopes to facilitate a similar program in the future.

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