The first Nunavik resident to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once played a key role in thwarting a measles epidemic by delivering drugs by dog sled in the 1950s.
“I believe that because of his age, but especially his contribution to the community, they came to a consensus that he should be the first,” explains Larry, son of Jonnny Watt.
Her father, now 94, received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine on January 17 at the Tusaajiapik home for the elderly in Kuujjuaq. His health did not allow him to speak with
Alternately Hudson’s Bay fur merchant, boat pilot and mayor of Kuujjuaq for over 10 years, Mr. Watt is well known in the small northern community.
In the past, he also volunteered to come to the aid of dozens of Inuit and Naskapi families struggling with measles during an epidemic that decimated 7% of the population of Ungava Bay in 1952.
Delivered by dog sled
Accompanied by a nurse and her spouse, the Inuk drove a team of a dozen sled dogs for a month to the isolated camps around Fort Chimo (now Kuujjuaq), to bring antibiotics to the sick.
“He was one of the few up to the task, because he hadn’t caught measles and knew the area so well,” notes Larry Watt, who is preparing a book on life. from his father.
Courtesy Photo, Watt Family Collection
Johnny Watt, the first coronavirus vaccine in Nunavik, with his mother in Old Fort Chimo (Kuujjuaq) in the 1950s.
With 39 cases of coronavirus and no deaths to deplore since March, Nunavik has been spared the worst of the pandemic.
In contrast, measles had spread like wildfire between February and April 1952 in Ungava Bay, infecting 99% of the population, or about 900 Indigenous people.
The Inuit baptized this disease, which was unknown to them aupallaat (ᐊᐅᐸᓪᓛᑦ), or “red dots” in Inuktitut.
A report at the time places the onset of the epidemic after two Inuit who had contracted the virus returned to Fort Chimo in Goose Bay, Labrador, where they had sought treatment.
Shortly after, a relative of the sick began a journey of nearly 350 kilometers, despite himself infecting several people in the camps visited on the way.
When help arrived, some were so weak they couldn’t speak, Johnny Watt told his son.
“When the whole family was bedridden, no one could bring food or fuel. This is an important factor in the high death rate, ”the report specifies.
The antibiotics brought in by dog sled “undoubtedly helped save the lives of many Aboriginal people,” the scientists conclude.
Today, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services has much more modern means for distributing the vaccine against COVID-19 in the 14 communities that make it up.
The first 1,000 doses arrived via an Air Inuit flight last week and 520 have already been administered.