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A look inside the GNWT’s COVID-19 vaccine operations centre

Backlogs in equipment shipments are forcing the GNWT to adapt their vaccine rollout.

“We only have five of these [cold storage vaccine] boxes in the Northwest Territories from the federal stockpile, transport freezers were on backlog, we managed to get a few of those,” said Scott Robertson, a team lead for the NWT Health Authority’s COVID-19 response. 

Robertson (second from left) said delays in shipments of equipment has created challenges in the territory’s vaccine rollout. (Photo by Bailey Moreton/

“But the original ones we ordered back in like October, we were told they’d be here in a couple of weeks, and now they’re backlogged till the end of March because of that global demand for these products.” 

A lack of portable freezers forces the GNWT to undergo a lot of extra planning to avoid vaccine wastage. Once vaccines are removed from the freezer or a transport box, they can’t be frozen again, and a clock starts ticking on how long the vaccine is good for.

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The vaccines are temperature monitored by Temp Tale data loggers, which take the temperature and track the data so the vaccine administering teams can keep track of how long a vaccine “is in motion” — meaning how long it is outside a freezer.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine can be “in motion” for 12 hours. Beyond that, a vaccine can become ineffective.

“We’ll do everything we can not to waste a dose,” Scott Robertson, a team lead for the NWT Health Authority’s COVID-19 response. “We send a logistician always to look after that vaccine to make sure that the vaccine’s temperature is maintained, that the data is logged.”

Teams of at least four are sent to the communities, depending on the existing health infrastructure in the community. Also sent is a contingency set of vaccines, around five per cent of the total number of doses needed, in the event the cold chain is broken and a vaccine is compromised.

“There is an acknowledgment that despite the most careful efforts by the team here, it is possible that some doses will, will lapse and that’s been factored in,” said Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services. “We obviously want that number to be the smallest possible and that’s the efforts these guys are making to make sure it’s handled properly.”

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The computer displays track flights with vaccines on them, and the progress of vaccine programs in all NWT’s communities. (Photo by Bailey Moreton/

The GNWT’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is being run out of an office space in the Centre Square Mall Office Tower. As well as storage for the Abbott ID testing kits, personal protective equipment and other supplies, the GNWT is also running a flight monitoring operations centre to track the flights bringing vaccines out to communities.

The GNWT has spoken with all the airlines operating in the territory and are trying to use existing freight flights to transport vaccines, rather than charter planes — in order to keep costs down.

Vaccinations have already been rolled out to a number of communities, and will be being distributed into more communities next week.

But Minister Green urged for patience as people wait for vaccines to reach their communities.

“The thing that I struggle with is that everybody wants the vaccine today, everybody, everybody wants it today, and it’s just not possible,” said Green. “So there is a plan, and I tried to reassure people that the plan takes into account all of us, we will all be vaccinated. But we have to wait our turn and work with the priorities that have been set up by the Chief Public Health Officer.”

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