The NWT has begun offering the Covid-19 vaccine to non-resident rotational workers at mines and oil and gas sites.

This new priority group began receiving vaccines on March 12, following direction from the chief public health officer (CPHO), the GNWT said in a news release on March 15.

This group includes workers at Imperial Oil in Norman Wells and mines operated by Rio Tinto (Diavik), Arctic Canadian Diamond Company (Ekati), and De Beers (Gahcho Kué).

Non-resident workers at those sites have received notification about vaccine dates through their employers.

The GNWT has requested 12,000 additional doses – above the original allotment of 51,600 doses – from the federal government specifically for non-resident workers.

Vaccinations of other non-resident rotational workers will continue to be assessed by the CPHO on a case-by-case basis.

Increasing immunity by vaccinations at these worksites will protect residents, their families and residents in the NWT communities where some workers return between shifts – particularly the most remote and vulnerable communities where access to health care is limited.

The development of new Covid-19 variants in other parts of Canada and outbreaks at work sites in the NWT – such as at Gahcho Kué – highlight the importance of protecting rotational workers living and working inside the territory, the GNWT said.

Gahcho Kué

The Gahcho Kué Mine suspended operations for almost three weeks in February after six Covid-19 cases were confirmed there.

De Beers spokesperson Terry Kruger said Gahcho Kué has promoted the importance of vaccinations ever since NWT resident mine workers were included in the priority list for Covid-19 vaccines.

“We want to thank the Chief Public Health Officer of the NWT for extending the vaccination program and we are pleased to work with NWT Health and Social Services to deliver the program,” he said.

The mine is working with NWT health authorities to plan the first vaccination clinic for all Gahcho Kué employees on March 22 and 23.

Ekati mine

At the Ekati Mine, where operations resumed on Jan. 20 after they were suspended since March 2020, a vaccination clinic opened for workers on March 16. Ekati is about 310 km northeast of Yellowknife.

Diavik president and COO Richard Storrie, left, receives his Covid-19 shot from public health nurse Sheila Laity at the mine site vaccine clinic on March 15. photo courtesy of Diavik

The clinic is operated in conjunction with the GNWT, said Arctic Canadian Diamond Company spokesperson Michelle McCullagh.

“We believe, and science has proven that the vaccine will reduce workers becoming ill and decrease the transmission from worker to family and friends,” she said. “Our workforce is at the heart of our business and their health and wellness is fundamental to the success of our operations. We are thrilled to be able to work with GNWT and bring this clinic to our workforce.”

Dominion Diamond Mines, Ekati’s former operator, became Arctic Canadian Diamond after the mine’s sale closed on Feb. 3. The sale followed months of court proceedings after the mine was put into care and maintenance and Dominion filed for insolvency protection in April 2020.

Diavik Mine

At the Diavik Mine, which is about 30 km south of Ekati, more than 250 people, including NWT and non-resident workers, have been vaccinated at the on-site clinic since inoculations began, said a spokesperson for Diavik.

“We are pleased to work with Public Health to provide access to vaccination to southern rotational workers with whom our Northern workforce live and interact,” the spokesperson said.

About half of the mine’s workforce is from outside of the NWT.

Norman Wells oil site

Lisa Schmidt, spokesperson for Imperial Oil, said the company appreciates that its employees at the Norman Wells site can participate in the vaccination program.

“Our focus continues to be on preventing the risk of spread of Covid-19 and we are maintaining our strict site protocols,” she said.

Most of the approximately 80 employees and contractors who rotate through the Sahtu work site on a two-week basis are from outside the NWT.

Health Minister Julie Green said that non-resident workers not included in the initial priority groups have continuously been able to email the CPHO to ask for individual exemptions.

“Though this still remains an option, I am glad to see that these large worksites have been added to the priority list which will ensure additional safety for NWT residents and communities,” said Green.

NWT vaccinations ahead of schedule

Plans to vaccinate rotational workers will not prevent NWT residents from getting their promised doses of vaccine, the government said.

The NWT is ahead of schedule in offering first doses to residents 18 years of age and older in all 33 communities, with 19,685 first doses given and 12,389 second doses as of March 16, according to GNWT data.

With the arrival of the fifth Moderna shipment expected next week, the NWT is on track to provide both doses of the vaccine to 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of April 2021. The GNWT will not incur any additional costs associated with vaccinating non-resident rotational workers.

To date, the NWT has received four shipments of the Moderna vaccine, totalling 35,300 doses.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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