Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation

Our way is to be adaptable

Dr. Evan Adams, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Public Health, Indigenous Services Canada and formerly Chief Medical Officer of the First Nations Health Authority in B.C., tells stories about his life and the importance of vaccination.

Dr. Evan Adams is a dedicated advocate for the wellbeing and health of our Nations, a two-spirit father of six, and an actor. He is also a gifted storyteller – much like the character he portrayed in the 1998 cult classic “Smoke Signals,” Thomas Builds-the-Fire.

Dr. Adams, of Sliammon First Nation, has received the first dose of his vaccine, along with most of the adults in his community. “When my community was verging on vaccination, people were phoning and writing to me expressing concerns - they were fearful,” he says. “I was in a lineup at a grocery store, and I heard a young man who said, ‘I had my vaccine and I felt sick.’ He felt tired with mild symptoms, which is something you should expect.” Dr. Adams explains that mild symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, a slight fever, and achy joints are normal side effects of the vaccine. “That is your body doing what it’s supposed to do – learning how to fight.”

Dr. Adams says he is concerned about the misinformation prevalent across social media platforms and urges young people to seek out credible sources. He is also aware of the toll that the pandemic has taken on the mental health of youth. “I have teenage sons and I know they want to get back to a semblance of real life,” he says. “One of my sons hasn’t been able to be near his girlfriend for a year. I know getting vaccinated would be helpful to him. Another one of my sons misses his career. He works in the arts, and most of the art houses are closed so it’s hard for him to find work.”

Dr. Adams says we must be willing to seek out credible information to make the best decision for ourselves, our family and our community. “If you have any hesitation, just talk,” he says. “Go to someone with health knowledge. It doesn’t have to be a professional – go to someone you love and trust. It’s about all of us together – your friends, school, workplace, and your social life. We have to share information, that’s our work.”

Dr. Adams believes that western medicine can work with traditional knowledge, medicine, and ways of being and knowing. “My father is very traditional and strong in our ways...I mean physically strong. He’s in his 80s and in excellent health. He knows that our way is to be adaptable and to take care of each other,” Dr. Adams says. “He always said to me, since I was a little boy, ‘Indigenous People are adaptable above anything else.’”

“I think that’s what we’re doing now. COVID-19 is a new virus that we’ve never seen and we’re just figuring out how to deal with it. You have to use your wits and try to get to a better place – so we’re all safe.”

Dr. Adams recognizes that some people are worried that they won’t be able to get the vaccine but notes that there are very few people who will fall into this category. People who have had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past are discouraged from getting the vaccine. There are also people who have compromised immune systems from treatment such as chemotherapy, who shouldn’t take the vaccine. However, health factors, such as diabetes, are a major reason to get the vaccine. “Lots of people are questioning, ‘am I strong enough or well enough’ – that’s exactly why you should get the vaccine,” Dr. Adams says.

Although COVID-19 cases are on the rise in large urban areas, they are falling among First Nations People – dropping to less than a fifth of the total case number since January in British Columbia. Dr. Adams notes that this positive drop in case numbers is due to the effort to get Nation members vaccinated quickly. “Our vaccination rate is about four times higher than that of other Canadians. This phenomenal decrease in COVID-19 cases is, in part, due to a (large) number of us being vaccinated.”

Although this is positive news, Dr. Adams wants to remind people that getting the vaccine doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t have to follow safety procedures. It can take two to four weeks after your first shot to develop maximum immunity. Then the second, “booster” shot later can enhance your immunity even further.

“I know when I got my vaccine, it felt like my life was changing,” he says. “It would have been easy to misstep, to act differently than I did before I had my vaccine, so we tell people to be careful.” Dr. Adams advises people to continue to follow the health protocols - wash your hands, wear a mask, sanitize, stay six feet apart and stay home if you are sick.

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