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Waste not, want not: Montana tribe provides COVID-19 vaccinations at border crossing

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CARWAY, Alta. — A long line of cars was backed up at the Carway border crossing in southern Alberta this week as First Nations members and others took advantage of free COVID-19 vaccinations from the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana.

James McNeely, the public information officer for the tribe, said that despite a slow start in getting vaccines for the reserve's 10,000 residents, 98 per cent of those eligible have been vaccinated.

Many members of the reservation, 150 kilometres south of Lethbridge, Alta., have relatives in Canada and, with a lot of extra vaccine, they decided to see if they could help, he added.

McNeely said the health administrator at the tribal clinic in Browning said she had a lot of shots that were going to expire if they weren't used.

"She's very spiritual and said it would be a sin to waste, so we started playing with the idea on how could we vaccinate our relatives up north," McNeely said Thursday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

He said it took about a week to get approval from the tribal administration and both the Canadian and United States governments to set up the mobile clinic on the U.S. side of the border.

"We were joking about it. We were laughing. 'Could we actually do this?' And it happened. It really happened," he said.

Canadians who attended the clinic were given exemptions from having to quarantine for 14 days. They lined up in their cars, drove through a loop, received their shots through the window, were monitored for 15 minutes and went home.

McNeely said those who need second Pfizer shots were given them, while others were offered the Moderna vaccine.

More than 450 people went through the two-day clinic and it was opened up to any members of the local community, he said.

"There were people lining up from Cardston that were crying as they drove through because they didn't think they were going to get a vaccine," said McNeely.

The clinic is expected to return next week and again in 21 days so everyone can get their second shots.

"We still have a lot of doses to share, but we see this as a number of things. No matter what race, creed, colour, it's about saving human lives," he said.

Pam Blood, the communications spokeswoman for the nearby Blood Tribe, said a number of residents took advantage of the clinic, especially those who were awaiting their second Pfizer shot.

"It did help out with the Pfizer, because a lot of tribal members got their first Pfizer shot so they were able to get their second shot," Blood said.

"Then they opened it up to community members in Cardston who wanted to get their first shot who weren't on the list in the phases. So a lot were able to access that as well," she said, adding it was a wonderful gesture.

"It think it's just wanting to see how everyone can be protected the best that they can."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2021

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary. Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter.

The Canadian Press