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On Jan. 7, Martha Sapp, a resident of Woodland Manor long-term care facility, became the first person in Hay River to receive the Moderna vaccine against Covid-19. Lorie Steinwand, a registered nurse and the supervisor of Public Health with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, provided the vaccine to residents and staff at Woodland Manor.
photo courtesy of the Department of Health and Social Services

Vaccinations have begun in Hay River against Covid-19.

The first shots of the Moderna vaccine were delivered on Jan. 7 for the residents and staff at Woodland Manor long-term care facility.

The first person to receive the vaccine in Hay River was Martha Sapp, a resident of Woodland Manor.

Lorie Steinwand, the supervisor of Public Health with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority and the registered nurse who administered that first vaccination, said the Moderna vaccine was offered to all staff and residents of Woodland Manor.

“Although we strongly encourage healthcare staff to get vaccinated, it is not mandatory,” said Steinwand in written responses to questions from The Hub. “As with other NWT residents, healthcare staff who choose not to vaccinate will need to continue to follow routine public health measures as well as employer protocols and guidance while at work.”

There was no information provided on how many people actually accepted the vaccine on Jan. 7.

The rollout of the vaccination effort will begin with priority populations before moving on to all eligible people, those 18 years of age and over.

In an online announcement on Jan. 9, Brian Willows, chair of the Hay River Regional Wellness Council, announced that, beginning on Jan. 11, the Moderna vaccine was to be available to all residents of K’atlodeeche First Nation, Enterprise and Kakisa 18 years of age and over.

Teams from the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority will be facilitating the vaccinations in those three communities.

“This is very good news for our neighbours and ahead of schedule,” stated Willows. “As the schedule rolls out in the North, it is reasonable to expect adjustments to the logistical plan as opportunities arise.”

The GNWT began Covid-19 vaccinations on Dec. 31 after receiving a first shipment of 7,200 doses from the federal government on Dec. 28. That is enough to vaccinate 3,600 people, since two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart are required to build immunity to Covid-19.

The first group to receive the vaccinations in the NWT included residents and staff at the Jimmy Erasmus Seniors Home in Behchoko and AVENS Manor in Yellowknife.

A second shipment of about another 7,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine is expected at the end of January.

The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer for the NWT has categorized residents and staff at long-term care facilities as among those at highest risk and a priority population for immunization.

Other priority groups for the vaccination in the NWT are people over the age of 60; those with existing chronic diseases and multiple medical conditions, especially those who travel outside the NWT regularly for medical care; frontline healthcare workers and those who provide care to high-risk vulnerable populations; resident workers who live in the NWT but work regularly outside the NWT or at camps with out-of-territory workers; and people living in remote communities, including Indigenous communities, with limited health infrastructure compared to larger centres.

Priority groups will get the vaccines in a phased approach that will be expanded to all eligible people in the NWT as the supply increases.

“Although the vaccine is available to the priority populations, Public Health continues to encourage all Covid-19 preventative measures like wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, keeping your circle small and avoiding crowded locations,” said Steinwand.

According to a Jan. 5 news release, the GNWT expects vaccinations of priority populations to take place in January and February. The general population can expect to have the opportunity to be vaccinated starting in March.

The latest estimate from the GNWT is that vaccinations for priority populations in Hay River are expected to take place sometime between Jan. 18 and Jan. 31. The priority populations may be further defined depending on vaccine availability.

Specific dates and times of vaccine clinics will be updated as additional doses from the federal government arrive in the NWT.

The goal is to provide the vaccine to 75 per cent of the territory’s eligible population 18 years of age and older.

“We have begun a vaccination plan that is one of the most complex healthcare efforts the Government of the Northwest Territories has ever had to complete,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane, the minister responsible for the Covid-19 Co-ordinating Secretariat, in a Jan. 5 news release. “A collaborative and co-ordinated approach across all levels of government plays a vital role in our efforts to effectively deliver vaccine doses across the Northwest Territories. I am confident in our healthcare professionals to deliver the vaccine to 33 communities successfully.”

The Moderna vaccine was selected as the most viable vaccine option for all three territories due to its ability to be shipped and stored at -20°C.

The Pfizer vaccine currently being distributed to other parts of Canada must be stored at -70°C, which requires specialized, costly equipment and presents significant logistical challenges.

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Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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