The GNWT released on Tuesday its Immunity for our Communities Covid-19 vaccination strategy, including a general schedule in January for the vaccination of priority populations in almost all communities.

The strategy for vaccine delivery, which began on Dec. 31 with the vaccination of Elders and support staff at long-term care facilities in Yellowknife and Behchoko, prioritizes residents who are at highest risk and the GNWT expects vaccinations to take place between January and February for those residents.

Those deemed at highest risk include people of advanced age, people with existing chronic medical conditions, frontline health-care workers, resident workers who live in NWT but work regularly out of territory or at work camps with out-of-territory workers and members of remote Indigenous communities where health infrastructure is limited.

Health Minister Julie Green, left, and chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola spoke to reporters remotely on Tuesday about the GNWT’s Covid-19 vaccination strategy. GNWT image

One-hundred and thirty people, which includes Elders and support staff at AVENS in Yellowknife and at Jimmy Erasmus Seniors Home in Behchoko have been vaccinated already, Health Minister Julie Green said in a news conference on Tuesday.

During the week of Jan. 4 to 11, residents and staff at long-term care homes and hospitals in the following communities are scheduled to receive vaccinations: Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, Norman Wells and Yellowknife, the NWT Health and Social Services Authority said on its website.

In the week of Jan. 11 to 17, all eligible residents aged 18 years and older in the following communities are expected to be vaccinated: Colville Lake, Wrigley, Sambaa K’e, Jean Marie River, Nahanni Butte, Tsiiigehtchic, Sachs Harbour, Ulukhaktok, Paulatuk, Lutsel K’e and Wekweeti. Exact vaccination dates have yet to be set.

Priority populations in Dettah can be vaccinated in the week of Jan. 11 to 17 as well.

During Jan. 18 to 24, priority populations can be vaccinated in Fort Liard, Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk, Fort Providence, Ndilǫ and at the K’atl’odeeche First Nation.

In the weeks of Jan. 18 to 31, priority populations in the following communities will be vaccinated, though it could be further defined depending on vaccine availability: Behchokǫ̀, Norman Wells, Fort Resolution, Fort Simpson, Fort Good Hope, Enterprise, Kakisa, Whati, Délı̨nę, Gamètì, Tulita. Fort Smith, Hay River, Yellowknife and Inuvik.

Green said that the initial vaccination focus for remote communities will be on those that are fly-in, without roads and along borders.

Priority populations in communities with road access will be next, followed by priority populations in regional centres and finally in March the general adult population will be vaccinated.

People who choose not to be vaccinated will get other opportunities, Green said.

The general population can expect to have the opportunity to be vaccinated starting in March.

Federal government promised 51,600 doses

A total of 51,600 doses of Moderna are expected in five shipments from the federal government, said chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola, who spoke alongside Green.

Following the first shipment on Dec. 28, a second shipment of 7,200 doses is expected next week, with three more anticipated until mid-March.

“We are grateful that we have been considered as a priority (by the federal government),” Kandola said, though she added that problems in manufacturing or shipping could delay the shipments.

Vaccination goal

“The overarching goal of the immunity for our communities … is to provide a safe, effective vaccine against Covid-19 to 75 per cent of the territory’s eligible population 18 years and older,” said Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Damien Healy in a news release.

The Moderna vaccine, which has been selected as the most appropriate for the three territories, will be available free of charge to eligible residents of 18 years of age and older.

The vaccine isn’t recommended for some populations, including people who are immunosuppressed due to disease or treatment, individuals with an autoimmune condition, pregnant or breastfeeding women and individuals under 18 years of age.

Moderna is a two-dose vaccine that is administered at least 28 days (about 4 weeks) apart. Receiving the second dose is essential to achieve the vaccine’s full efficacy. The highest level of immunity is expected 14 days after the second dose of the vaccine.

“We have begun a vaccination plan that is one of the most complex health care efforts the GNWT has ever had to complete,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane. “A collaborative and coordinated approach across all levels of government plays a vital role in our efforts to effectively deliver vaccine doses across the NWT. I am confident in our health care professionals to deliver the vaccine to 33 communities successfully.”

Lifting restrictions to take time

Kandola cautioned that lifting the Emerging Wisely restrictions will take time.

“The vaccine has only been approved as a measure to prevent illness. There is not yet enough data to know whether it prevents transmission. This will become clear with continuing research,” she said.

The NWT has been in Phase Two of the restrictions since June. Emerging Wisely states that restrictions can be lifted once a vaccine is approved and produced.

“I want to be open about the fact that we still have some time to go before we will be in the position to lift all public health restrictions,” Kandola said.

It will take several months for all of the eligible population in the NWT and across Canada to be vaccinated and transmission rates will have to drop significantly before isolation and travel restrictions can be eliminated.

“As vaccinations rise across the country and in our territory and we bend the second wave, we can look forward to easing restrictions in 2021. The first restrictions eased would likely be measures within the NWT, like gathering limits, for example. More targeted and permissive self-isolation protocols, and travel restrictions may also be considered.”

Kandola explained that because Yukon and Nunavut are also aiming to vaccinate 75 per cent of their eligible populations with the initial allotments of Moderna, easing travel restrictions into the neighbouring territories would be the first consideration.

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