A group of Quebec retirees who worked in COVID-19 vaccination clinics put their experience to good use in the Amazon, where they managed to vaccinate 1,700 Peruvians cut off from the rest of the world.
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“When I heard the government say: “it will stop when everyone is going to be vaccinated”, I said to myself that even if we have 15 doses at home, we would not get through it if at the other end of the planet they are not vaccinated,” says Julie Picard, a retired nurse.
Accompanied by 13 other people who had lent a hand in vaccination clinics at the Lanaudière Integrated Health and Social Services Center, she flew to Peru on March 12 to offer doses to populations living in the wild jungles of South America.
The project was supported by Nurses Without Borders, which has a base camp in Indiana, a village an hour by boat from Iquitos, the largest isolated city in the world.
From there, the group of mostly nurses bivouacked in about 30 villages over four weeks, according to a schedule prepared by the chief medical officer of the local health center, who was also involved in the project.
“The working and sanitary conditions are not the same as at home. We had to adjust, but we didn’t come to impose our ways of doing things, we came to lend a hand based on their ways of doing things,” says Ms.me Picard live from his balcony in Lima, the Peruvian capital.
Travel by boat
The group had to sail for several hours on the Amazon River between the localities, which each had a hundred inhabitants.
Once there, they set up their temporary equipment to offer first, second or third injections of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We gave a lot of first doses to children and ladies. I don’t think these people would have come to get their fix,” says retired nurse Céline Saint-André.
In Peru, vaccination is mandatory to enter the workplace. Several men had therefore previously traveled to larger centers, sometimes hours by boat from their homes, in order to obtain their inoculation.
According to calculations by the authorities, the group has thus succeeded in inoculating 90% of the eligible population, a performance far superior to the target of 30 to 40% set at the start.
“I expected to see a lot more reluctance from the population. People were really happy to see us, the children were curious. It was beautiful to see, “says M.me Saint Andrew.
“Solidarity and team spirit really saved us. There was no crisis, no moment of discouragement, ”she continues.
Not for everybody
One of their colleagues, however, decided to leave after a week in the Amazon.
“To drag your gear, set up your tent, inflate your air mattress and settle in these conditions, it’s not given to everyone. You really have to be solid, ”says M.me Picard.
Retired soldier Richard Cusson, who volunteered as a service aide in CHSLDs, still cannot believe the determination of his partners in the Amazon region.
“I did several missions in the infantry. There are soldiers who would blush with shame to see what these women, who had no experience, have achieved. I take my hat off to them,” he said, moved.