MN-S minister overcame vaccine fear, distrust and got the jab
- NC Raine
Leonard Montgrand is the first to acknowledge the contradiction.
As Minister of Post-Secondary Education at the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S), and Executive Director at the La Loche Friendship Centre, Montgrand has spent a great deal of the last year-and-a-half advocating for safety measures and resources to help fight COVID-19, including encouraging his community to get vaccinated.
But until recently, Montgrand himself was unvaccinated.
“I was a hypocrite. I was telling people to get vaccinated, but I wasn't vaccinated myself. Anytime anyone asked, I would just divert the conversation,” he said.
Montgrand, from La Loche, has struggled with an intense fear of vaccines his entire life. He even characterized himself as an 'anti-vaxxer' due to this fear – a fear which led him to use any and all information he could find to validate his vaccination dread.
“I was a voracious reader. There's a lot of misinformation out there on the Internet and I bought into it. I lived off these conspiracy theories because that was a reason not to get vaccinated,” he said.
“I thought it would put me in the hospital and on a ventilator.”
La Loche was hit hard by COVID-19 in 2020, being called at one point the, “most concerning outbreak in Canada,” by experts. The severity of the outbreak only further drove Montgrand's fears.
The turning point came in the summer of 2021 when Ken Roth, his best friend and colleague at the Friendship Centre, called from his camping holiday in Calgary, complaining about how sick he suddenly felt. Roth was also unvaccinated.
The next day Roth called again, this time from the emergency room at a Calgary hospital.
“On the phone I sensed the fear in him. He told me, ‘Go get vaccinated. This isn't a f-ing joke. I'm going on a ventilator. Talk to my daughter from this point forward. I can't breathe,’” Montgrand recalled.
That phone call was more than two months ago and Roth, now in hospital in Saskatoon, is still on a ventilator.
“It shook me to the core. I knew I had to do it, but I couldn't sleep at night because I knew the next day I had to get the shot.”
In Saskatoon with his wife, who already had the first shot, Montgrand knew he couldn't put it off any longer.
“I was shaking, I was so scared. Then I saw an old lady in a wheel chair, with an oxygen tank and she was going to get vaccinated. I thought, ‘What the hell is wrong with me? If she's getting vaccinated, I can as well,’” he said.
For 15 minutes after the vaccine, and for the three days following, Montgrand waited for something terrible to happen. The only thing he had to report was a sore arm.
“So, much ado about nothing,” he said.
“The stress and pressure that was released after my first vaccination, it's like night and day. I can sleep at night. Now I'm telling people it's an immune booster. It's going to help you fight COVID, not kill you.”
Montgrand wants his story shared in hopes of convincing others to make the potentially life-saving decision to get vaccinated.
“If you get COVID, who is going to look after your kids, your parents, your grandparents, your grandchildren, your family? Do it for them,” he said.
“When I talk to people about getting vaccinated, some people say, ‘No, God will look after me. If He wants me, He'll take me.’ I mean, what hell kind of answer is that? I say, ‘Okay, God gave us a vaccine to help ourselves. It's up to us to use it.’”
Now, Montgrand and the MN-S are on the same page in encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.
In September, the MN-S launched a vaccine incentive lottery, in which fully-vaccinated Métis citizens can enter to win prizes, including a new Dodge Ram truck, a camper trailer or one of 80 $25,000 scholarships.
“We want to get the numbers up. It's very important. We're trying anything and everything to encourage as many people as we can to get vaccinated,” Montgrand said.
Montgrand said he knows the conversations he's having with people, which are no longer coming from a place of hypocrisy but a place of openness and sincerity, could make a profound difference.
“Sit down and talk to people about the vaccine. If you're scared of it, go watch people get vaccinated, sit there and watch. Talk to the (experts) and have an understanding of what's actually happening,” he said.
“The vaccine won't kill you. COVID will. COVID is the killer. The vaccine is there for us, to help.”