A mass immunization clinic kicked off at Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Monday, April 12. The clinic seeks to vaccinate as many eligible Merritt citizens as possible against COVID-19. 

On Sunday, prior to Monday’s opening, the clinic was blessed with a prayer and smudging lead by Indigenous Knowledge Keeper, Nkwala, Daniel L. Manuel from the Sylix Nation. Manuel shared wisdom about the custom of smudging and blessing by prayer.

“With the sage, we are asking the bad spirits to leave, and with the eagle feather we are calling in the good spirits,” said Manuel.

Tamara George was also on hand, representing the Nlaka’pamux Health Services Society as Executive Director. She thanked those present for taking part in the ceremony, which she views as an important bridge between traditional and modern medicine. 

“It’s huge for us, as Indigenous people, to have our partners participate in ceremony with us,” said George. 

“It’s a start to building trusting relationships within the health care system for our Indigenous population. We’re here today because we are starting that transformation with our health system.”

Interior Health representatives were also in attendance, including local nurses who would be administering the vaccinations, as well as Community Engagement Coordinator from Nlaka’pamux Health, Bernadette Collins and local physician Dr. Duncan Ross. 

“The risk of getting seriously ill from contracting COVID-19 is significant”, said Dr. Ross, Merritt Physician Lead, Rural & Remote Division of Family Practice. 

“The best vaccine is the first one you are offered, and I encourage community members to register as soon as you are eligible.”

“It was an honour to be a part of the blessing for the mass immunization clinic for the Merritt community,” stated Interior Health’s Ian Wood, Director, Clinical Operations, Community and Primary Care. 

“This marks the beginning of a campaign to get vaccine to everyone that wants it in the community.”

At Nkwala’s request, Interim Director of Clinical Operations, Mental Health and Substance Use Carla Mantie assisted with the smudging ceremony. 

“I really love the relationship we’ve had with our First Nations and Aboriginal partners,” said Mantie.

“I also want to thank the City of Merritt, our local Public and Interior Health staff, as well as the physicians, pharmacists, and volunteers who come to help.”

As those present thanked Manuel for the blessing, he shared with them the nsyilxc?n word Lim’limpt, which means ‘thank you from the bottom of our hearts’.

The Merritt mass vaccination clinic is scheduled to run from April 12 through the end of May. Registration by age eligibility can be done online at gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated or by calling 1-833-838-2323 from 7am to 7pm daily or at a Service BC office. 

On its first day, the Merritt clinic vaccinated nearly 300 people.