Vaccine distribution to prevent the Covid-19 virus is expected to start rolling out early in the new year, according to a territorial government announcement on Friday.
The NWT will receive 51,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of the adult population, 18-years and older, the federal government announced Thursday.
Health Minister Julie Green and chief public health officer Kami Kandola said the vaccination will involve two doses for each individual and will require a four-week period between each shot for it to be effective.
“Through 2021 we expect to receive enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone who wants it,” Green said. “I know that residents are anxious to confirm who will be a priority in the first round along with how and when it will be delivered. Work is well underway confirming this detail for immunization in each NWT community.”
While the GNWT has a vaccination plan in development, Health Canada has not yet authorized the use of Moderna’s product in Canada, Green acknowledged.
“We don’t expect this to take long,” the health minister said.
According to a territorial government news release issued on Friday, the Moderna vaccine was chosen as the best option for Northerners.
“The Moderna vaccine was selected as the most viable vaccine option for all three territories due to its ability to be shipped and stored more easily to remote communities at -20 C,” the news release states. “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.”
Health officials also stated that residents can be assured that the vaccine will have been heavily vetted before being approved.
“NWT residents can be confident that top Canadian experts, scientists, and medical professionals carefully reviewed all of the scientific data and evidence for vaccine safety and effectiveness,” states the news release. “The GNWT encourages all adult residents to get vaccinated but it will not be mandatory.”
Green said the GNWT is also working with Indigenous and community governments to make the best decisions on how to prioritize vaccination among the population.
“Engagement is a critical part of respecting residents and developing a well-rounded and collaborative approach.”
Much of the distribution strategy will be under the advisement of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Green added.
Joint Task Force North (JTFN) commander Brig-Gen. Patrick Carpentier made a very brief statement Friday saying that JTFN is working with the GNWT to ensure the vaccine is delivered in the best way possible.
“Currently, planning support is being provided to the Department of Health in their work to bring the vaccine to the people of the Northwest Territories efficiently and as safely as possible,” Carpentier said. “As a good partner, Joint Task Force North is ready to assist wherever and whenever the government needs us to help residents of the Northwest Territories.”
Friday’s announcement marked the ninth month to the day that the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 pandemic.
Point of care testing
Kandola said there are now point-of-care testing devices for the virus in Hay River, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells and Behchoko that can provide preliminary results, joining Yellowknife.
She said there are expected to be more communities with devices soon, but didn’t specify which ones or when this might take place.
Storage freezer locations
Storage freezers to safely store the vaccine at the required -20 C will be placed at Stanton Territorial Hospital and Inuvik Regional Hospital pharmacies. Although these will be the locations for storage, they will not factor into who gets vaccinated first, Kandola said.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean just because the vaccines got shipped to Inuvik or in Yellowknife that they will be the first ones to receive and distribute the vaccine in their own communities,” she said. “It’s just a holding spot.”
Kandola said she’s expecting an increase in travel over the Christmas holidays and her department is keeping an eye on two identifiable groups entering the NWT: travellers coming into the territory to reunite with family members and essential workers arriving to cover essential workers who are taking holidays.
“That’s all occurring up until the new year’s time period,” she said. “We’ve been watching those numbers come in, reviewing them and approving them and yes, we anticipate there will be a surge (of people coming in) but not as high as in the summer.”
The final tally of inbound travellers won’t be known until after the holiday period, but Kandola said she’s been impressed with the self-isolation plans submitted.
She continued advising NWT residents not to travel outside of the territory during the holidays.
“If we truly want to keep the NWT safe and make it to the time when we can roll out this vaccine program – the first quarter – the less people travelling out and less people travel in, the safer we’re going to be.”
Meetings with community leaders
Following the First Ministers’ meeting on Dec. 10, special meetings were booked with Indigenous and community governments to get feedback on who should be prioritized for vaccination.
Kandola is scheduled to hold a meeting on Dec. 17 with Indigenous governments and meet with the Northwest Territories Association of Communities on Dec. 18.
She said she will make recommendations based who’s considered high risk and it will be up to community leaders to determine who those people are.
“It’s not just the public health experts who have a say, but it’s the people who are going to be most impacted – the people at highest risk,” she said. “After those two meetings, we will then put out a formal vaccination plan, but we can’t do it ahead of the game.”