The GNWT plans to release its vaccine distribution plan at the beginning of January while the Moderna vaccine could be approved by Health Canada in days, said GNWT leaders on Tuesday.
“In the first week of January we’ll unveil a whole-of-government vaccine distribution plan,” Health Minister Julie Green told reporters in a teleconference. “It will include information such as the prioritization of who gets vaccinated and approximately when and in which communities. There will also be information in the plan about vaccines in Yellowknife and in the hub communities (and) how Joint Task Force North is helping us – all of the logistics pieces.”
She spoke alongside Premier Caroline Cochrane and chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola, who said “we’re likely days away from Health Canada approval (of Moderna).”
“Vaccines have moved so quickly because the globe has a united focus on beating Covid-19,” Kandola added.
Green’s announcement of the distribution plan came almost one week after Kandola said she expects the rollout of the Moderna vaccine to begin in a matter of weeks.
The health minister said the NWT is unlikely to receive its entire shipment of vaccines all at once, and the government is still waiting to learn how many doses it will get in the first shipment.
“This information will allow us to narrow down exactly who from the prioritized groups of residents will be first in line,” Green said.
The priority groups who will be among the first to receive vaccines will be Elders, people with high-risk health conditions, essential frontline workers, and Indigenous people in remote communities, Kandola said.
She specified that even though the NWT has about 6,000 Elders, not all of them would necessarily receive the first doses as a subsection of Elders with higher risk health conditions would be first in line.
Green added that the two main freezers used to store the Moderna vaccines have arrived in the NWT. One is at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife and the other landed in Inuvik on Monday. Both are undergoing testing.
The smaller, portable freezers that will carry vaccines from Stanton and from Inuvik to smaller communities haven’t yet arrived, Green said.
The Department of Health and Social Services plans to hire additional health care, administrative and logistics professionals to assist with the vaccination program, Green explained, though she couldn’t specify how many people would be required.
“I know the department has been looking for anyone who may be recently retired and still has a an active licence to sign up for this work. The idea here is to try and mimic what we do with the flu vaccine in terms of logistics of having a place set up where people can go and the speed of the vaccinations goes very, very quickly.”
News about developments on the vaccine front came as the leaders cautioned NWT residents to be vigilant about coronavirus, especially as more people gather during the holiday season.
“The fight against Covid is far from over. There are over 6,600 cases per day reported in the past week across Canada, with an average daily count of 114 deaths,” Kandola said.
As she urged that people keep gatherings small, she noted that the risk of importing Covid will be high between now and mid-January when there will be a surge in the number of visitors and essential workers entering the NWT, especially during the week of Jan. 3-9. That includes people visiting families for the holidays, residents returning from travel and essential service workers.
Cochrane warned people not to let their guard down.
“As we’ve seen in southern Canada, it doesn’t take long for the virus to travel and quickly put a significant strain on the healthcare system. The stories coming out of hospitals and long-term care facilities across Canada show us a system that is grappling with overtaxed staff and being pushed to the brink. When we don’t follow the rules, we begin to put our health system at risk.”
Both Cochrane and Kandola reminded residents to continue regularly washing their hands, wearing masks in public and keeping appropriate physical distance. When holding indoor holiday gatherings, household members can meet with five additional people, for a maximum of 10.
In a separate email, Dennis Marchiori, director of Compliance and Enforcement Operations with the Covid Secretariat, said community get-togethers in places like community halls can’t exceed 25 people and the space must be set up for at least six feet of spacing between guests.
Hand-washing needs to be available and encouraged and buffet-style serving must be avoided.
“If you’re getting together outdoors for a bonfire, the limit is 50 – so long as you can physically-distance, wash your hands, and avoid buffet-style food serving,” Marchiori added.
If anyone feels sick they should stay home and call their health provider and get tested for Covid, Kandola said.
“We have testing capacity in every community across the territory, so that you can get your results faster, usually within two days, no matter where you are,” she said. “Getting tested is how you can get some peace of mind while you’re feeling sick. And it’s how public health professionals can keep communities safer by tracking down the contacts, possible exposure locations and get others isolated to break the chain of infection.”
Enforcement of health orders
Enforcement teams from ProtectNWT will be working throughout the holidays and complaints of Covid order violations will continue to be accepted through ProtectNWT and by the 811 hotline, Cochrane said.
Public health officers will also continue their spot checks of restaurants and bars to ensure occupancy numbers don’t exceed the appropriate levels. If there is a surge in those numbers then officials would be redeployed from the GNWT to enforce the rules.
“My hope is that all residents would abide by the orders and we don’t have to give one ticket out. It’s not the Christmas present I want to give people so I’m hoping that all residents will give the gift of safety to their neighbors to their loved ones,” said the premier.
Cochrane closed the teleconference by urging residents to reach out to people they can’t meet over the holidays by calling them or connecting by Zoom.
“Keep connected with those you love, especially those that are that are elderly that may be isolated in this season.”