A feel-good story in which a Montana First Nation was holding COVID-19 vaccination clinics at the Canada-United States border in southwestern Alberta has come to an end.
The Blackfeet Tribe, 150 kilometres south of Lethbridge, began offering shots of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna at the Carway border crossing a month ago. Initially it was being offered to members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, but it was later opened up to anyone who wanted it.
The proposal received 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.
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.
But an official with the Blackfeet Tribe in Browning, Mont., told The Canadian Press late Saturday that the clinics have come to an end.
"I am very sad and disappointed to report that we are not to able to continue our border vaccine clinics because of government bureaucracy on both sides. Apparently crossing the border to receive a vaccine is non-essential. Go figure," said James McNeely.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said last week Canadians attempting to drive across the American border solely for a COVID-19 vaccination, even with a doctor's referral, would be denied entry.
The Public Health Agency of Canada also clarified that any Canadians travelling to the United States for the purpose of getting the vaccine are not exempted from a 14 day quarantine on their return and that vaccines are now "widely available" here.
McNeely said 1,350 doses were given in three clinics the tribe held in the past month. Another clinic this week to give people their second shots has now been cancelled.
"This was such an excellent program and it is saving human lives. Isn’t that what it’s all about? We’ve had an over abundance of vaccinates and as our health director said it would be a sin to waste vaccines," McNeely said.
"This was becoming an international trend along the northern states to help get folks vaccinated. I implore our governments to reconsider the border vaccine clinics across the northern U.S. in order to help saving lives and vaccinating our Canadian neighbours," he added.
The popularity of the Alberta border clinics led to lineups up to two kilometres long. Many came from as far away as Calgary due to frustration of delays in getting a second shot.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2021.
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press