The NWT government says it is close to finalizing a deal that will give the territory access to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, boosting its ability to vaccinate teenagers.
Health minister Julie Green made the announcement on Monday as the latest outbreak in Yellowknife rose to eight confirmed and 12 probable cases, all connected to the city’s NJ Macpherson School.
At the moment, the NWT only uses the Moderna vaccine against Covid-19, which cannot yet be used on residents younger than 18 – meaning none of the territory’s children have protection against the disease.
While trials assessing the Moderna vaccine’s safety in young people continue, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for teenagers aged 16 and up and is expected to soon be rolled out to children aged 12 to 15.
“We are close to finalizing an exchange of vaccine with other provinces to acquire the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine,” Green said, adding it would allow “fuller vaccine coverage.”
“Introducing a second product into the NWT’s inventory will allow for a more flexible, sustainable, and reliable Covid-19 vaccine program,” the minister said.
The exchange is being negotiated with British Columbia. The number of doses is still being finalized.
Dr AnneMarie Pegg, the NWT’s medical director, said she hoped to begin rolling out the Pfizer vaccine to 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds “in the coming weeks.”
Earlier in the pandemic, the Pfizer vaccine was understood to pose challenges for the NWT as it requires storage at ultra-cool temperatures – a difficulty in the North, where infrastructure to achieve that is harder to come by.
Dr Pegg said the territory now had appropriate freezers to store the vaccine.
Some earlier cases recover
“We continue to see a lull in vaccine uptake,” Green said, referring to NWT adults who already have full access to Moderna’s two-dose vaccine. “We need everybody who’s eligible to get vaccinated so we can get back to the things we love.”
Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, urged residents to make sure they get their second dose of the vaccine – without which they are not considered fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Dr Kandola said four of the five people who contracted Covid-19 in April’s Yellowknife cluster had now recovered.
“With respect to this new outbreak, we need to take strong actions,” Kandola said as she closed all city schools indefinitely. She did not announce any significant new measures at Monday’s news conference.
“There have been many contacts and exposures involving multiple students who attend Yellowknife-based schools,” she said, asking Yellowknifers to work remotely if possible and avoid non-essential travel.
“I know these measures will impact many people in Yellowknife and in the territory. These are not easy decisions … but they are necessary right now.”