The NWT is tops in Canada for prioritizing vaccinations for residents with disabilities.
Ready For My Shot, a family-based group in Burnaby, B.C., assesses provinces and territories based on their posted policies for vaccinations.
In a tweet on Friday, the group announced the NWT received the only green rating in Canada, recognizing it as giving “high priority” to vaccinating residents with disabilities.
British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec are orange, meaning they have “vague or inadequate priorities.” The remaining provinces and territories are red – “no priorities set.”
Criteria includes residents with disabilities
The territory’s positive rating came just three days after the NWT Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) announced expanded criteria for first doses of the Moderna vaccine at the Yellowknife vaccination clinic that runs until Feb. 27.
“Residents living with disabilities (intellectual or physical) and their caregivers” were included on the expanded list.
Kudos to NWT
“When the news (of the NWT’s policy) came, we were about four days into the campaign,” said Mike Waddingham, who launched Ready For My Shot with his wife Sue Robins. “We had just built the map. It was a lot of red and some orange. And then we had an email conversation with Inclusion NWT and they highlighted that the policy had been changed. I yelled out to my wife, ‘We got a green one!’ It was just very nice timing for us.”
“I have to say congratulations to Health Minister (Julie) Green and Inclusion NWT and the chief public health officer. Everyone else has been foot-dragging but you guys just did it,” Waddingham said.
Green said she’s proud of the territory’s work to ensure the most vulnerable populations receive the vaccine.
“Since the beginning, the GNWT’s approach to delivering the COVID-19 vaccine has been grounded in five core values: equity, cultural competency, evidence-based decision-making, flexibility and trust,” she said.
Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola explained that the NWT’s vaccination strategy follows guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which states that “efforts should be made to increase access to immunization services to reduce health inequities without further stigmatization or discrimination, and to engage systemically marginalized populations and racialized populations in immunization program planning.”
Unique health challenges
Robins and Waddingham launched the group out of awareness that people with disabilities face vulnerabilities, such as their 17-year-old son Aaron, who has Down Syndrome.
“My son won’t be eligible for his shot until the fall and that’s not acceptable. The impact of him getting this virus would be worse than me, and I’m 57,” said Waddingham. “And other people like him need to get it first.
“We want all provinces to prioritize vaccines for people with development disabilities. Older people with Down Syndrome need the shot because they’re at higher risk of health complications. A man or woman with Down Syndrome in their 40s is like an 80-year-old. They can develop Alzheimer’s, diabetes and respiratory illnesses earlier than others.”
Extra protection for residents
Inclusion NWT executive director Lynn Elkin said her organization is grateful that residents with disabilities and their caregivers were given the early opportunity for vaccination.
“Most persons with developmental or intellectual disabilities receive support and rely on others to assist with activities integral to daily living. This support is a necessity, not an option,” Elkin said. “Unlike other citizens, these individuals are unable to make the choice to not have interactions with others or to isolate themselves completely. As a result, access to the vaccine provides that extra layer of protection beyond following good public health practices. “
Raising awareness of needs
Another key focus of Ready For My Shot is Gary, a 64-year-old man with Down Syndrome, who is featured in the campaign.
“He’s a survivor of institutionalized care here in B.C. He currently lives independently,” Waddingham said. “He told us, ‘I want my life to go back to normal.’ He wants the vaccination. Gary has a great life (but) 64 for a man with Down Syndrome is very elderly. We’re trying to bring voices like Gary’s forward. We’re creating a crowd-sourcing platform for others to upload photos of themselves and incorporate them into the campaign and share more of their voices and words.”
The expanded vaccination opportunities at the Yellowknife clinic occur as the GNWT announced on Tuesday that at least 16,454 doses have been given, with at least 14,520 first doses going into arms and 1,934 second doses administered.
To reach the NWT’s goal of vaccinating 75 per cent of the eligible adult population of 34,400 people, about 26,000 people will need to be vaccinated, chief public health officer Kandola said.