YORKTON -- Officials are giving context to the essential nature of the COVID-19 vaccines in First Nations communities, after reports that vaccination rates are higher among Indigenous populations.

In a press conference on Wednesday, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the vaccination rate on First Nations is significantly higher than those reported in other communities.

“We know that we have to deploy extraordinary measures into communities as measures that may seem benign can affect Indigenous communities in a disproportionate fashion,” Miller said. 

Saskatchewan First Nations are receiving their portion of vaccines from federal allocations. The Ministry of Health, Saskatchewan Health Authority and Indigenous Service Canada are working closely together on the vaccine rollout. 

Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation said they are ready for the vaccines and will have their core team contact residents – he added that they will start with the elderly. 

“The 160 that we have rolled out so far have been successful. We have had zero vaccines wasted. People have been coming in groups of five. We are keeping the gatherings minimal,” said Chief Delorme. 

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has identified urban Indigenous populations as particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and it’s variants. 

“It’s scary and its indicating a larger spread or potential to spread, which is magnified when you super impose all the conditions that exist in Indigenous communities.” Miller said. 

Dr. Ibrahim Khan, a medical health officer with Indigenous Services Canada in Saskatchewan, said that multiple chronic conditions, limited access to healthcare and bad socioeconomic conditions put Indigenous communities more at risk. 

“When you look at the overall COVID-19 numbers, you see the rate of hospitalization and the rate of deaths is twice as high compared to non-First Nations,” said Dr. Khan.