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NWT health groups fight Covid misinformation

Natalie Pressman/NNSL photo

One pandemic lap around the sun and science has been moving at warp speed to save lives. As quickly as we’ve been learning about the virus, however, misinformation has been travelling just as fast.

To ensure residents are equipped with proper data, a team from the GNWT department of Health and Social Services (HSS) have been setting up information booths in communities around the territory.

Jack Miltenberger of NTHSSA, left, and Nancy MacNeill of HSS set up at at the uptown Independent Grocer Tuesday morning to combate disinformation surrounding Covid-19 vaccines.
Natalie Pressman/NNSL photo

Nancy MacNeill, the HSS health promotions specialist at the helm of the project, said people have good questions and deserve good answers to address concerns.

Putting a face to the facts helps too.

“When we’re able to do that the results are typically really good,” she said. “It’s important that people see that our healthcare system isn’t this big scary thing.”

The team has been setting up in Yellowknife, Behchoko, Hay River and Fort Smith.

One concern that HSS has noticed repeatedly, is unease over the speed the vaccines have been developed.

Listening and providing factual, evidence-based answers, is the most powerful way to address worries, MacNeill said.

“Going to talk to people builds trust and allows people the space to be worried and have concerns and get those things dealt with,” she said.

“People deserve to feel good about getting this vaccine.”

Dispel misinformation

Research support centre Hotii ts’eeda shares the government’s goals of dispelling Covid myths and supplying residents with accurate, up-to-date information.

Hotii ts’eeda supports inclusive and culturally competent health research by connecting communities and Indigenous organizations with researchers.

Through their Information is Medicine campaign, the organization is sharing posters, interviews with Indigenous knowledge holders and sharing circles to bring together trusted community voices with healthcare professionals.

Last week Hotii ts’eeda hosted a sharing circle addressing vaccine hesitancy.

Jennie Vandermeer, the lead on the Information is Medicine series, said feedback has so far been extremely positive.

She explained that last weekend’s session aired on CKLB ahead of their popular Saturday afternoon request show to maximize participation.

The event brought together Elder Rosa Mantla, chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola, territorial medical director Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, Indigenous youth and community wellness coordinator Cara Manual and registered nurse Rielle Nakehk’o.

It was an opportunity, Vandermeer said, to explain vaccine logistics, common side effects and handle misinformation and disinformation.

Vandermeer explains that one such myth, is the idea that in being given priority status for vaccination, Indiengous people are being treated as guinea pigs.

Pause and reflect

She said the Information is Medicine campaign asks people to think critically, pause and reflect on the information.

Having community leaders share the information in a culturally relevant way, using plain language is key, she said.

“It’s truly about valuing our own knowledge systems as Indigienous people,” Vandermeer said. “We want to make sure we’re not just deferring to medical experts beacsue everyone is equal. Elders, youth, everyone has their own expertise and knowledge.”

Denzie Hurst, part of the HSS health promotions team, shares information at Ring’s Pharmacy in Hay River. Photo courtesy of Nancy MacNeill.

Moving forward, the Information is Medicine series seeks to continue answering community questions and move into areas of mental health, intimate partner violence, addictions and other issues the ongoing pandemic has brought into the forefront.

Like the HSS, Hotii ts’eeda is inviting community feedback and suggestions for next steps.

This week, HSS will be setting up in Yellowknife on Wednesday at the COOP from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Walmart from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. On Thursday the team will spend 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the uptown Independent Grocer and 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Walmart.

While she can’t make any commitments, MacNeill said that if other communities are interested in having them, “we will work really hard to provide the support they need.”

“Some people just want to talk to a human being,” she said. “We’re available to help.”