The territory is receiving over 50,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and specialized freezers to store them.
Two freezers are being delivered to the Northwest Territories to store all of the territory’s vaccine doses. One is being installed at Stanton Hospital in Yellowknife, and one at the pharmacy facilities in Inuvik. Smaller freezers that will allow the vaccines to be transported to communities are also being delivered.
This does not mean Yellowknife and Inuvik will get access to the vaccine before other communities. Rather, they will be used as a “launching spot” to distribute vaccines throughout the territory, says Dr. Kami Kandola, NWT’s Chief Public Health.
“This is an exciting time, we’re getting close to the end of the pandemic,” Caroline Cochrane said in a press conference on Friday. “But it’s not over yet.”
On Thursday, Cochrane had announced the NWT is set to receive enough doses of the Moderna vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of the eligible adult population in the first three months of 2021.
Kandola said 70 per cent of people being immunized is enough to give the territory herd immunity – which offers protection against the spread of the virus by having enough people immune to it.
The territory ruled out making the vaccine mandatory. Kandola said the GNWT would be providing information so residents can make an informed decision, and emphasized the Moderna vaccines are 94.5 per cent effective, and strongly scrutinized before being approved by Health Canada.
But Kandola added that it is still early stages and there is still much to learn. Currently, it is not known whether people who have been immunized can still spread COVID-19.
The territory is still finalizing how the vaccines will be distributed and is consulting with Indigenous governments on how to provide inoculations to Indigenous communities. Kandola said those meetings are ongoing.
However, the territorial government has no plans to reopen travel borders with the other territories, who have similar timelines for receiving vaccines. Kandola also reiterated COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions will still be in place and that the GNWT will need to see what happens in other provinces before changing any restrictions.
The Moderna vaccine is yet to be approved by Health Canada. But health minister Julie Green said the GNWT expects it won’t “take long” for the vaccine to be approved, when vaccinations will begin.
The Pfizer vaccine was approved on Wednesday by the public health agency, and is set to be rolled out next week.
But Cochrane had previously raised concerns about the territory’s ability to distribute the Pfizer vaccine to many NWT residents. That’s because it needs to be stored at -70 degrees celsius for weeks, and the NWT does not have the freezers required to do that.
The Moderna vaccine only needs to be stored at -20 degrees celsius.
Both vaccines require two doses to be administered, 21 days apart from each other.