Youth in Yellowknife aged 12-17 can begin receiving vaccinations with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine between May 6 and 8.
The addition of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will offer increased protection to schools and communities, as Yellowknife continues to face the challenge of the COVID-19 outbreak at N.J. Macpherson school which has grown to include 20 people and seven probable infections.
Appointments can be booked on a first-come, first-served basis on the NWT Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) website, and additional opportunities will be added once resources and supply allow, the Department of Health Social Services said in a news release on May 5.
Residents aged 18 and older should select the existing booking options for the Moderna vaccine.
The initial appointment offerings are for individuals not currently in isolation.
On May 11, the NTHSSA will announce booking availability for individuals ages 12-17 who are currently in isolation. Individuals currently isolating who want to be vaccinated must email email@example.com to request authorization, and will receive email confirmations that include instructions on how to safely attend the vaccine clinic.
The announcement follows the approval by Health Canada on May 5 for the use of Pfizer-BioNTech on people as young as 12 years old, as CBC reported.
Youth from other NWT communities who are in Yellowknife during May 6-8 can book appointments to be vaccinated. Doses will be held back for youth aged 12-17 in Behchokǫ̀ and offered next week.
A shipment of 1,170 Pfizer-BioNTech doses arrived in Yellowknife on May 4, said Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Damien Healy. Additional shipments are expected in the coming weeks which will be delivered to youth aged 12-17 in all other NWT communities.
The Pfizer-BioNTech doses will not be offered to adults 18 years of age and older at this time due to limited supplies.
Additional protocols have been added to increase vaccine availability for asymptomatic individuals in isolation as well.
Starting May 5, asymptomatic people will be permitted to get vaccinated during their isolation period after e-mailing CPHO@gov.nt.ca to seek prior written approval.
Pfizer-BioNTech doses can be given three weeks apart, instead of the minimum of four weeks required with Moderna. Less time between doses permits faster movement towards full vaccination and the potential for some students to receive doses before summer break begins.
Health Minister Julie Green expressed gratitude to the vaccine team for bringing about the expansion of the vaccine program.
"This approach will give increased protection to youth, schools and communities at a time when we need it most," Green said.
The NWT has so far used the Moderna vaccine which is targeted at people aged 18 and older and has received 58,800 doses as of May 3, according to the federal Shipments and Deliveries portal.
Another 1,200 Moderna doses are expected to arrive between May 10 and 16.
The Pfizer development comes two days after Green announced the GNWT would enter into a vaccine exchange arrangement with other provinces, in which the NWT would give Moderna doses in return for receiving Pfizer-BioNTech doses.
“It will allow for greater vaccine coverage. Introducing a second product into our vaccine inventory allows for more flexible vaccination program,” she said.
Territorial medical director Dr. AnneMarie Pegg said the exchange would happen with British Columbia.
Asked if the addition of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations would change the NWT herd immunity target, which ranges between 75 and 85 per cent, Kandola said there isn’t a precise target yet.
“But having the population for 16-17 year olds immunized will improve our risk around outbreak spread. In total, we’re looking at about 3,600 students, in addition to the adults we can immunize. It’ll improve our ability to control the spread of COVID-19.”
The GNWT said the cold chain requirements for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been updated to bring it closer to what NWT vaccine teams have been trained to handle with the Moderna vaccine.
An additional 18,800 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been requested during the second quarter of 2021 to protect additional residents and to continue vaccinating non-resident rotational workers at high risk of bringing the virus into the NWT.