Achieving a high vaccination rate in remote Indigenous communities is essential to prevent outbreaks and reduce health inequalities. However, challenges exist for both vaccine provision and uptake. As part of the COVID-19 response in remote Northern Ontario communities, Operation Remote Immunity (ORI) was launched in February of 2021 to administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to fly-in communities in northern Ontario. This initiative was operated under the leadership of Indigenous-led organizations, with support from Public Health Units and Ornge, an Ontario-based non-profit that provides air-ambulance and medical transport services to fly-in communities. As of June 2021, ORI has delivered 25,000 doses of
COVID-19 vaccines to 31 remote First Nations communities.
This case study report will examine the program’s successful logistic execution, the evolution of ORI over three phases, the role of Indigenous leadership, the operationalization of a community-based approach, and trust-building with Indigenous communities.
Hard to Reach
Indigenous communities in remote Northern Ontario that lack access to medical care facilities and are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of the spread of COVID-19.
Operation Remote Immunity (ORI) provides valuable insights into developing and implementing more inclusive public health campaigns, and specifically for remote Indigenous communities. These include:
- Indigenous co-leadership is especially vital. ORI leaders stressed how important it was to prioritize Indigenous communities’ needs.
- Operational experience and expertise were also crucial in delivering health care to remote communities. Vaccine provision to remote communities is complex and uncertain, and this process is further complicated by the urgent and compressed timeline of ORI.
- Planning, training, and preparation were key to implementing the vaccination effort. Pre-deployment training sessions ensured that the vaccination teams were well informed prior to arriving in communities.
- Cultural safety training for ORI staff and volunteers was critical to the operation. Indigenous volunteers and participants emphasized the significance of cultural safety training that provided non-Indigenous individuals with knowledge about Indigenous cultures and experiences. Cultural awareness and training are key to building trust.