NWT Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola during a briefing with reporters on October 21. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
While the Northwest Territories expects to be able to vaccinate three quarters of its adult population in early 2021, health officials caution that won’t mean an immediate end to pandemic restrictions.
On Friday, the territorial government announced it will receive 51,600 doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine between January and March 2021 – enough to vaccinate 75 percent of NWT residents aged 18 and over.
In a gradual process throughout 2021, the territory expects to receive enough doses for every NWT adult that wants a vaccine.
NWT Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola told reporters acquisition of the vaccine marked a “turning point in the pandemic” for the territory and Canada, and the mass vaccination campaign will be “like no other in history.”
Yet she said the NWT’s travel restrictions and self-isolation protocols will continue until there is widespread vaccination and a reduction in Covid-19 cases across Canada.
“There’s so much more to know before we can lift travel restrictions,” she said.
“I’m asking residents to hold on just a little bit longer.”
While the NWT, Nunavut and Yukon will receive the majority of their vaccine doses in early 2021, Kandola noted Canada’s southern provinces will only receive 10 percent of their allotment during that time.
School-aged children in the territory will not be vaccinated by early next year, she added, and while the vaccine has proven effective in preventing people from getting sick, it’s not clear if they can still pass on the virus.
Canada is providing the NWT with two specialized freezers to store its vaccine doses. These freezers will be placed at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife and the Inuvik Regional Hospital.
Kandola said that doesn’t mean residents in these communities will be the first to receive the vaccine. Doses will be prioritized for those at risk of severe disease, as well as those at high risk of bringing Covid-19 back into the territory.
Exactly who that includes, however, is still being decided.
Green said the territory is working on its vaccination plan, which will consider the “unique geography and population of the NWT” as well as consultation with community and Indigenous governments.
Joint Task Force North will help with the logistics of delivering the vaccine to communities. Vaccine teams of nurses and support staff will help local healthcare staff to administer the vaccine, while registered nurses in the territory will receive specialized Covid-19 vaccine training.
‘No one can be forced to take the vaccine’
Kandola said while vaccine hesitancy is increasingly a problem, the Covid-19 vaccine will not be mandatory for anyone in the territory.
“No one can be forced to take the vaccine,” she said. “They will be provided information to help them make an informed decision.”
Canada has a “rigorous regulatory system” for approving vaccines to ensure that they are “safe, effective and of high quality,” Kandola said. She added that 30,000 people were involved in third-stage trials for the Moderna vaccine.
Moderna reports its vaccine is 94.5-percent effective in preventing Covid-19 illness. By comparison, Kandola said, the influenza vaccine is generally 50 to 60-percent effective.
Health Canada has not yet approved the Moderna vaccine, though NWT health officials say they expect that to happen soon. Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine has already been approved for use in Canada but, due to logistical challenges, all three territories have opted for Moderna’s vaccine candidate.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, with the second administered about a month after the first. The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at temperatures below -70C, which are only achieved by ultra-cold freezers. The Moderna vaccine can be stored at -20C.