A repurposed shuttle bus. A high-end battery backup. A specialized freezer — and over 600 Covid-19 vaccines.
All this set out from Inuvik in the early hours of Jan. 21 to Tuktoyaktuk as part of the GNWT’s first wave of Moderna Covid-19 vaccinations, aimed at ensuring priority patients are able to be immunized as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
Leaving at 6 a.m. and arriving in Tuktoyaktuk by 9 a.m., a team of two set up a mobile immunization clinic at Kitti Hall that vaccinated people at a rate of six every 15 minutes.
“We set it up at Kitti Hall because we didn’t want to tie up the Health Centre’s resources,” said registered nurse Heather Redshaw, who was the lead nurse for the operation. “Our goal is to try and get 60 per cent or over of the eligible population in each community and I would say in most communities we’ve achieved that.
“60 per cent is a great achievement. It’s the beginning of herd immunity.”
Tuktoyaktuk was the third stop for this team, which also touched down in Aklavik, Sachs Harbour and Paulatuk. A second team also used the shuttle bus to handle vaccinations in Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic, while Inuvik hosted its own clinic at the legion.
To get the vaccines to the people who need them, a lot of logistical hurdles need to be cleared first, as the vaccines are extremely fragile.
“You pretty much have to treat them like a baby,” said Redshaw.
While Redshaw handled the administering of the vaccines, she was joined by Logistician Aidan Healy, who ensured the vaccines were in full working order, which takes a number of key steps.
Normally, the vaccines remain frozen at between -15C and -25C when in storage. Alternatively, they can be kept in a normal refrigerator at between 2C and 8C, where they can keep for up to 30 days. When sitting at room temperature, the vaccines have about 12 hours of shelf-life, though the room needs to be kept at temperatures lower than 25C.
Because of the volume of people coming into the building, heat was a concern so doors were opened periodically to bring the room temperature closer to 20C.
Once a vial has been opened and the fluid containing the vaccine is exposed to the air, the vaccine lasts only six hours. Each vial has enough vaccine for 10 doses. In total, Redshaw and Healy took 610 doses of vaccine to Tuktoyaktuk.
“If the clinic starts at 10:30, we need to come in at 9:30 just for that hour for the vaccine to be prepared,” said Healy.
With 174 vaccinations scheduled on the first day, there was great interest in being immunized. Redshaw told Inuvik Drum a total of 293 vaccinations were given out over the course of three days.
This was only the first part of the immunization, as the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine is taken in two steps. A second shot will be given to the patients in 28 days. In trials, the vaccine was found to 94.1 per cent effectiveness against coronavirus.
Healy said she felt blessed to have a role in the fight against Covid-19.
“I feel extremely privileged being able to come to these small communities and being able to help distribute the vaccine,” she said. “This is such a huge thing that’s going on with the pandemic. It’s really affected everyone out there.
“I’ve met some extremely nice people in these communities.”