While timelines are still fuzzy, the premier said she is working with the federal government to ensure “all of our people will receive the vaccinations in a timely period.”
Two pharmaceutical companies, Moderna and Pfizer have reached the final stage of testing on their COVID-19 vaccines. Both use RNA — the part of a person’s DNA that transmits messages between DNA strands — to create a synthetic copy of the coronavirus’s genetic material and boost immunity to it.
Both vaccines require two doses to be administered, 21 days apart from each other.
In a press conference on Thursday, Premier Caroline Cochrane said she meets weekly with other premiers and the federal government to discuss how the vaccines will be rolled out.
“Although it will be distributed probably per capita, we expect that the territories will get its fair share,” Cochrane said. “Indigenous communities are also amongst the highest at risk as well, which represents a huge part of our territory.”
In a press conference on Friday morning, Justin Trudeau announced the majority of Canadians would be vaccinated by September 2021.
He also announced plans for a national operations centre to orchestrate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Trudeau says the centre, run through the Public Health Agency of Canada, is being set up with the support of the Canadian Armed Forces to “coordinate logistics and distribution of vaccines.”
He says the CAF will assist in planning, including how to deal with challenges like cold storage requirements and reaching Indigenous and rural communities.
Trudeau adds that the government has already purchased freezers to store vaccines, something most rural communities in the Northwest Territories aren’t equipped with. The Pfizer vaccines have to be stored at -70 degrees celsius, while the Moderna vaccines can be stored at -20 degrees celsius.
Former NATO commander Major General Dany Fortin will lead the effort.
NT’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola, who was also at the press conference on Thursday, said there are working groups already in place, in collaboration with the federal government.
“It is a great time to plan and spend time to be ready,” added Kandola. “We’re on it right now.”
The Northwest Territories have had trouble accessing some COVID-19 technology and support during the pandemic. The COVID-19 Alert app, which uses Bluetooth to warn people on their mobile phones if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, was only functional in the territory this week, despite being set up back in July.
The Northwest Territories’ gaps in medical facilities and capacity were also exposed when rapid testing systems were being implemented, with Stanton Hospital’s testing machines only becoming certified in October.
The vaccine will be distributed to more vulnerable populations first, like elders, those with pre-existing conditions and people who live in rural communities with poor access to medical facilities, according to the premier.
“When Nunavut had a breakout with their cases, just recently, we reached out to the federal government and they’ve offered to come in and support us as well,” said Cochrane. “They realize that, within the territories we don’t have the health care facilities to be able to handle a huge outbreak.”
Kandola, who was also at the press conference on Thursday, said the territory has experience conducting a major roll-out of a vaccine.
“I was the chief medical health officer 2009 when we had the H1N1 pandemic, and we had rolled out the vaccine in a short period of time quickly and had one of the second highest rates of vaccination for that particular influenza vaccine,” said Kandola.
Kandola addressed concerns about potential anti-vaccine sentiment. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said it would be important to address false information as the COVID-19 vaccines are distributed.
Kandola said this was something the territory dealt with during the H1N1 vaccination phase, adding it’s important NT residents make an informed decision.
“I think it’s really important to communicate to the public about the efficacy of a vaccine, any potential safety issues and to be very open with all the information evidence we have.”