The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded that Lianne Mantla-Look do her job as a nurse while also navigating through Indigenous and mainstream Canadian societies.
Normally a casual community health nurse in Behchoko, Mantla-Look was called upon to work with the COVID-19 immunization response Team (CIRT) when vaccinations began in the NWT in January.
She also works full-time as a patient engagement specialist with Hotıì ts’eeda in Yellowknife.
Mantla-Look has been part of vaccine teams in Yellowknife, Dettah, Behchoko and flown twice to Wekweeti for its clinic.
“I’m one of the nurses that administers the Moderna vaccine to people in the communities who want to get vaccinated,” she said. “In the Tlicho region, I’m the person there as a nurse who can speak Tlicho well. I provide vaccine education in Tlicho before I give them the vaccine.”
While she’s currently based in Yellowknife, she always appreciates going back to Tlicho communities such as Behchoko, where she is from.
“When I go to Behchoko as a community health nurse it’s like coming home,” she said.
Working with Elders has been the highlight of her career, even before the pandemic, and her ability to speak Tlicho has made her role as a vaccine nurse go more smoothly.
“I think many people are pleasantly surprised to meet a nurse speaking Tlicho. It puts people at ease,” she said.
Mantla-Look recalls a particularly endearing experience at a vaccine clinic in Behchoko in April.
When she gave an Elder her shot, the woman asked if it was done, surprised at how painless it was.
“Then two of her friends came over and she said to them, ‘Go see her! Go see Lianne! She gives needles that don’t hurt!’ So then I had a lineup of little old ladies waiting to see me. It was the highlight of my week.”
Her role in the vaccination process in Tlicho communities has also helped build relationships in the region between Indigenous leaders and the health-care teams because she has worked a lot with her mother Rosa Mantla, a Tlicho interpreter.
Rosa has accompanied vaccine teams to Tlicho communities, where she has guided residents through the jab process and even explained some scientific details of the Moderna vaccine. In Wekweeti on Jan. 13, she translated for chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola when she explained how the vaccine works.
But the job has its challenges too.
One of the hardest things that Mantla-Look works against is vaccine hesitancy due to misinformation disseminated on the internet.
That hesitancy is reflected in GNWT data that shows the Tlicho and Sahtu regions have the lowest vaccine uptake rates in the territory.
According to the latest update on the NWT COVID-19 Dashboard, 47 per cent of people eligible to receive their vaccine in the Tlicho region have been partially vaccinated, while the full vaccination rate for the region is at 37 per cent. For the NWT as a whole, 57 per cent of residents have been fully vaccinated.
While most patients are comfortable receiving their shots and ask lots of questions about how the vaccine was developed so fast, the fear and unease with vaccines comes up fairly often, Mantla-Look acknowledged.
“Trying to get ahead of the misinformation out there is a challenge. The internet is even more accessible now than it was a few years ago. Everyone has access now to ‘Facebook doctors,’” she said. “All it takes is one negative article about someone getting a vaccine in a country far away from the NWT. That instills fear and makes people hesitate.”
At times, even after she has explained the facts about the vaccine and how it works, some people still don’t accept it.
“They might say, ‘I’m not ready to do this. I’ll come back when I’m ready,’ and they walk away,” she said. “It’s (their) personal choice. My only hope is that people will make their choices based on the correct information out there.”
As the NWT begins vaccinations of youth aged 12-17 with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Mantla-Look urges the public to freely ask questions of nurses at the vaccine clinics.
“Don’t be afraid to ask,” she advised. “(And) be a little bit more picky about the information you choose to seek out about vaccines or COVID-19 in general.”