One of the first NWT residents to receive the Moderna vaccine said it was “marvellous” to be vaccinated on Thursday.
“I thought we were going to be waiting much longer and boom – it came today,” said Bruce Jonasson, who spoke to reporters outside AVENS Manor in Yellowknife, where he is a resident.
Jonasson was among dozens of people at AVENS and at Jimmy Erasmus Seniors Home in Behchoko who were the first in the NWT to receive the vaccine on Thursday.
“Personal vanity” motivated him to be one of the first to receive the vaccine, he said, and so his grandsons could see him in the media.
Jonasson said he had no reluctance to receive the vaccine and only felt “a little lightheaded” just after getting the jab at 10 a.m.
“(I feel) perfect,” he said. “Go get (the vaccine) as fast as possible. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like there’s progress in our abysmal lives.”
Marie Nickerson, a logistician who helps the nurses with the vaccinations and “cold chain” storage of the vaccine vials said the initial roll out went well.
“Everybody’s happy. It’s New Year’s Eve. This is a great way to start the new year. It’s been awesome,” she said.
More than 90 people were vaccinated in total on Thursday, she said.
The vaccines were transported to AVENS in cooler packs that keep the Moderna vials at the required low temperatures. Once they’re defrosted they can be stored at temperatures of between 2 C and 8 C for 30 days but they can’t be refrozen. After vaccine vials are opened they must be used in six hours.
Nickerson was hired last week and has been receiving training since then.
It wasn’t yet known how many residents at AVENS remain to be vaccinated, however, Frances Bower, director of care at AVENS said Thursday’s vaccinations have brought a “sense of relief that hopefully the end of the pandemic will be coming.”
AVENS was only informed on Wednesday that the vaccinations would happen on Thursday, she said.
Bower acknowledged that even though about 95 per cent of AVENS residents received the vaccine, a few residents refused to be vaccinated.
“Like everyone, the residents here have a right to choice,” she said. “I believe there will be another opportunity for the residents who chose not to be (vaccinated), if they change their mind in the future to be able to have that vaccination.”
Scott Robertson, a nurse and organizer of the vaccine roll out said the vaccinations in Yellowknife and Behchoko proceeded smoothly according to reports he received from his teams.
“The complexity of this vaccine is the transportation,” he said. “It is transported frozen. As soon as it’s thawed (we’re) very limited in how much we can move it without damaging it. (And) it’s challenging with the speed this is unfolding. We only received the product monograph a few days ago and we had to rapidly translate the information for our teams and for the public. Our teams have been working every day over the holidays.
“The complexity of this vaccine, the transportation and the storage and also the excitement and the attention around it gives it a little bit more prominence today.”
Eighteen logisticians and about 44 nurses have been redeployed for the vaccine effort, Robertson said. Groups and personnel would be sent out to the communities as required.
He said it feels good to be part of the first vaccine effort in the NWT.
“Everyone in the North is a big family. It feels like you’re doing something useful and helpful for the people you care about.”
Thursday’s vaccinations come just three days after the NWT’s first shipment of 7,200 doses of Moderna vaccine arrived in Yellowknife.
Elders in long-term facilities and their staff are slated to the first to receive the vaccine in the NWT, before the roll out for other priority groups begins during the week of Jan. 11. Those groups include individuals with high-risk health conditions, front line health-care workers and Indigenous residents of remote communities.
A second shipment of 7,200 doses of Moderna is expected to come at the end of January and is part of the federal government’s commitment to provide enough vaccine to vaccinate 75 per cent of the eligible population, said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola on Wednesday.