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GNWT releases vaccine strategy

The GNWT has released its COVID-19 vaccination strategy, a plan that will lay out how the territorial government will distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents throughout the territory.

The plan outlines who will receive vaccines first: vulnerable and elderly people in long-term care facilities and rural communities.

The first vaccines were delivered in the NWT on December 31 to long term care residents and staff in Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife. Dr. Kami Kandola, NWT’s Chief Public Health Officer, said 130 vaccines were administered between the two facilities.

Delivering to rural communities has been made more difficult by the delays in the delivery of a set of portable freezers. Health minister Julie Green said the portable freezers – which are supposed to help store the vaccines during transport and store them when they have arrived in rural communities – are on backorder, due to high demand and the GNWT hasn’t been provided with a delivery date.

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But vaccines will be delivered to rural communities next week, despite not being able to store the vaccines in the communities without the portable freezers. The vaccines will be administered in rural communities through health cabins.

“The good thing about the [health] cabin communities and remote communities, the numbers are small, so we are able to bring the vaccine that’s required and maintain the cold chain in these alternative storage arrangements,” said Kandola. “We will be able to deliver it.”

“The whole point is not to have vaccine wastage and keep the vaccines as frozen as possible, just to extend the shelf life,” she added. “But we have worked around the problem and it’s not going to stop us from going out next week and vaccinating as many of the highest risk people as possible.”

Kandola said the biggest difficulty in delivering the vaccine to rural communities will be the weather, because nurses and logistics will have to be flown in to some communities.

The portable freezers being made unavailable could ramp up costs, as multiple trips may be needed into fly-in communities to vaccinate people. But Green said there wasn’t an exact dollar figure determined yet about how much extra not having the portable freezers will cost the GNWT.

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Green also said while there may have been people who refused to take the vaccine during the Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀ administrations at long-term health care facilities, people would be able to get the vaccine at a later date if they had previously refused it.

“What we are looking for in the distribution of the vaccine is informed consent,” said Green. “If people are not comfortable receiving the vaccination now, this is not their only opportunity. They have the opportunity to learn more, and to have a vaccine at a later time.”

Kandola said the GNWT is expecting another shipment of 7,200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week, bringing the territory’s total doses of the Moderna vaccine to 14,400.

Premier Caroline Cochrane said distributing COVID-19 vaccines is the most complicated healthcare operation the territorial government has done, but she is confident the GNWT is equipped to handle it.

“We have begun a vaccination plan that is one of the most complex health care efforts the Government of the Northwest Territories has ever had to complete,” said Cochrane. “A collaborative and coordinated approach across all levels of government plays a vital role in our efforts to effectively deliver vaccine doses across the Northwest Territories.”

Tuesday also marked the end of the GNWT policy of paying for all residents’ isolation periods for NWT residents who travel outside the territory. Now, people who travel for discretionary reasons will have to pay for their own self-isolation periods.

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