Vail Health Hospital employee health nurse Diane Schmidt, left, gives a mock COVID-19 vaccine to Caitlyn Ngam, an infection preventionist at the hospital on Dec. 8, in Vail, Colo. The Yukon is expected to receive 50,400 Moderna vaccine doses in January, enough to cover 75 per cent of its adult population. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Vail Health Hospital employee health nurse Diane Schmidt, left, gives a mock COVID-19 vaccine to Caitlyn Ngam, an infection preventionist at the hospital on Dec. 8, in Vail, Colo. The Yukon is expected to receive 50,400 Moderna vaccine doses in January, enough to cover 75 per cent of its adult population. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

All Yukon adults will be able to receive COVID-19 vaccine in early 2021

“Not only do we have a fantastic opportunity, we also have an obligation to do this right.”

The territories will be the only jurisdictions in Canada to receive enough vaccines in January to cover the majority of their adult populations, government officials said in a press conference Dec. 10.

“The journey towards population immunity begins today,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Brendan Hanley.

The Yukon is expected to receive 50,400 Moderna vaccine doses. The vaccine requires two doses, 28 to 35 days apart, and has a 94.5 per cent success rate.

With two doses each, the amount will be enough to cover 75 per cent of adults in the Yukon. The government’s projections indicate that will likely be enough for all adults who want to be vaccinated in the territory. It will be administered free of charge.

“I think for here, that’s a realistic uptake assessment,” Hanley said. “The evidence is still coming in as to (herd immunity) … but it’s a reasonable estimate of what we think would provide herd immunity or population immunity against COVID-19,” he said.

The Yukon joins Nunavut and the Northwest Territories in receiving larger numbers of the Moderna vaccine than the provinces, which will largely be receiving vaccines on a per-capita basis.

The three jurisdictions will likely be the first in Canada to fully vaccinate their adult populations.

Premier Sandy Silver, Health Minister Pauline Frost and Hanley made the announcement at a press conference in the legislature on Thursday afternoon.

“It is the piece that we’ve been waiting for, so that we can turn the page and start returning back to normal,” Silver said, thanking officials and other Canadian governments.

Moderna’s vaccine, unlike Pfizer’s, does not require the extreme cold storage which presented logistical difficulties in remote areas. The vaccine has not yet been approved by Health Canada, but Hanley said that it is next in line and confirmation is expected in the next few weeks.

“Now if for whatever reason that did not come through, then we go to Plan B or Plan C. So we do have backup plans,” Hanley said. “But all the signals are that we will be looking forward to the Health Canada approval to allow us to roll out the Moderna vaccine.

“With this gift we’re about to receive, we have a chance to demonstrate to the rest of the country how well a population approach to COVID vaccine immunization can work,” he said. “We have over 30 million Canadians to thank for this.”

“Not only do we have a fantastic opportunity, we also have an obligation to do this right. This obligation includes us giving you all the information that you need in order to help you feel comfortable with receiving the vaccine. It is then up to you to step forward for the vaccine when it is offered. Our collective goal should be not to waste a single precious dose that can easily go to somewhere else in need,” Hanley said.

Hanley said 75 per cent will be enough to reach herd immunity from the virus, but it isn’t a hard ceiling. If more is required the territory will have access to additional vaccines in the second quarter of 2021.

Across the country northern, Indigenous and remote communities were considered priority groups under the national vaccine rollout.

Within the territory, there will be four initial priority populations including residents and staff in group living situations such as long-term care homes, group homes and shelters; health care workers; people over 80 years of age; and Yukoners living in rural and remote communities, including First Nations people.

Mobile vaccine clinics will be deployed to long-term care homes and homebound individuals within the priority groups will have the vaccine brought to them.

Mobile clinics will also be deployed to remote communities. Each clinic will visit twice, and health centres will have some vaccines for those unable to attend clinics.

In Whitehorse the approach will be similar to the 2020 flu vaccine campaign, with a mass clinic at the Yukon Convention Centre that focuses first on priority populations. This clinic will later be opened to the general adult population.

The government estimates that up to 1,000 people could be vaccinated per day.

More technical details on the rollout are expected at a later date.

The vaccine is currently approved for adults 18 years and older, but clinical trials for younger people are currently underway.

“I want to remind you that while this is good news, and it is reason for extreme optimism, we are not out of the woods yet, folks,” Silver said.

Silver and Hanley both emphasized that COVID-19 precautions need to continue into the holiday season. The safe six, plus masks, are still required as the territory prepares for Health Canada approval and the arrival of vaccines.

“January is still weeks away. And we cannot let our guard down,” he said. “Know that an end is in sight. But we are not there yet. We need to work together now so that we can get through this together and to keep our territory strong and healthy.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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