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Iris Samuels reports for Associated Press today on one cross-border vaccine initiative that has been a success.

The Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana in the United States provided about 1,000 surplus vaccines last month to its First Nations relatives and others from across the border in Canada, in an illustration of the disparity in speed at which the two countries are distributing doses. While more than 30% of adults in the US are fully vaccinated, in Canada that figure is about 3%.

A US Border Patrol agent directs a driver after the passenger received a Covid-19 vaccine from nurses of the Blackfeet tribe at the Piegan-Carway border crossing near Babb, Montana. Photograph: Iris Samuels/AP

Among those who received the vaccine at the Piegan-Carway border crossing were Sherry Cross Child and Shane Little Bear, of Stand Off, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the border.

They recited a prayer in the Blackfoot language before nurses began administering shots, with Chief Mountain — sacred to the Blackfoot people — rising in the distance. The prayer was dedicated to people seeking refuge from the virus, Cross Child said.

Cross Child and her husband have family and friends in Montana but have not been able to visit them since the border closed last spring to all but essential travel.

“It’s been stressful because we had some deaths in the family, and they couldn’t come,” she said. “Just for the support they rely on us, and we rely on them. It’s been tough.”

On the Montana side of the border, vaccine recipients were often emotional, shedding tears, shouting words of gratitude through car windows as they drove away, and handing the nurses gifts such as chocolate and clothing. Some shared stories about what the vaccine meant to them the possibility of safely caring for vulnerable loved ones, reuniting with grandparents or traveling again.

More than 95% of the Blackfeet reservation’s roughly 10,000 residents who are eligible for the vaccine are fully immunized, after the state prioritized Native American communities — among the most vulnerable US populations — in the early stages of its vaccination campaign.

The tribe received vaccine allotments both from the Montana health department and the federal Indian Health Service, leaving some doses unused. With an expiration date fast approaching, it turned to other nations in the Blackfoot Confederacy, which includes the Blackfeet and three tribes in southern Alberta that share a language and culture.

“The idea was to get to our brothers and sisters that live in Canada,” said Robert DesRosier, emergency services manager for the Blackfeet tribe. “And then the question came up what if a nontribal member wants a vaccine? Well, this is about saving lives. We’re not going to turn anybody away.”

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