New, more detailed vaccination data published by the NWT government shows fewer people in the Tłı̨chǫ and Sahtu are being vaccinated than in other regions.
The territory is now reporting vaccination statistics by region for the first time. Data is also shown for the communities of Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Smith, though the GNWT said smaller communities would not be separated “to protect communities with low uptake from public criticism or stigma.”
As of Thursday, the NWT’s data – to be updated weekly – shows 54 percent of eligible adults in the Tłı̨chǫ region have not yet received any vaccine dose. In the Sahtu, that figure is 46 percent.
By comparison, 42 percent of people in each of the Beaufort Delta and Hay River are entirely unvaccinated. That figure falls to 33 percent in Yellowknife and 32 percent in each of the Dehcho and Fort Smith.
Fort Smith has the highest proportion of fully vaccinated eligible adult residents, at 61 percent, followed by the Dehcho at 59 percent and Yellowknife at 52 percent.
In the Beaufort Delta, 51 percent of eligible adults are fully vaccinated. In Hay River the figure is 50 percent, in the Sahtu it’s 47 percent, and for the Tłı̨chǫ it’s 36 percent.
The data also breaks down vaccination rates by age. To date, the GNWT says, younger adults – for example, those age 18 to 29 – are less likely to be fully vaccinated than older NWT residents.
That doesn’t necessarily mean younger people are rejecting vaccination. Older adults may have been more likely to qualify for vaccination earlier in the year, while some adults in their late teens or twenties may be living away from the NWT while studying, meaning they have yet to access the vaccine. (It’s not clear how, if at all, those people are counted in the territory’s data.)
The Department of Education, Culture, and Employment said on Wednesday there are approximately 825 people receiving student financial assistance and studying at institutions outside the NWT. Some of those may currently be studying at home, in the NWT, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic – that number is not tracked.
As of July 1, 2020, the NWT Bureau of Statistics said, the territory had 7,832 residents aged 18 to 29.
“Since last December, we have been working hard to create the most protection possible for NWT residents with our vaccination strategy. However, there is still work to be done to reach herd protection,” Premier Caroline Cochrane said on Twitter.
“We need all eligible residents to get vaccinated so we can get back to doing the things we love. By getting vaccinated we protect our friends and loved ones. Strong community immunity through vaccines is vital to our return to pre-pandemic activities.”
No ‘certain number’ for vaccination
The NWT says it has “no specific target” for vaccination across the territory, though it expects to receive enough supply of Moderna’s vaccine this quarter to ensure 85 percent of eligible adults are fully vaccinated, should they wish.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Dr Kami Kandola – the NWT’s chief public health officer – said the territory must “move away from a fixed figure of reaching herd immunity.”
“At this point, with the variants of concern, it’s very difficult to say what that number would be,” said Kandola. “We’re going to try to vaccinate as many people as we can vaccinate, but we can’t reassure those people who are not vaccinated that a certain number means they would be safe.”
Pointing to the apparent lack of takeup among people aged 18 to 29, Kandola said: “Outbreaks can still occur in that population, it can still be a strain on the healthcare system.
“We have to keep that in mind as we move forward, when we are presenting our Emerging Wisely plan. We will relax restrictions but we don’t have safe coverage now to say that, if you’re not vaccinated, at ‘this percent’ you’ll be safe from getting Covid.”
The chief public health officer is due to finalize a new version of Emerging Wisely, the NWT’s pandemic recovery plan, by the end of April or early May. Restrictions on numbers at outdoor gatherings are likely to be the first to lift once the new version is in place.