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COVID-19 vaccinations begin

Five new cases have been announced since the new year began
Agnes Mills is one of the first to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Whistle Bend Continuing Care Facility on Jan. 4. Staff and residents of the facility were the first Yukoners to be vaccinated. (Mark Kelly Photography/Government of Yukon)

Staff and residents at the Whistle Bend Continuing Care Facility were the first Yukoners to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 4.

Agnes Mills, 84, and Mary Merchant, 103, who live in Whitehorse at the Whistle Bend Continuing Care Facility were among the first to be vaccinated in the morning. Around 50 people were planned to be vaccinated during the day.

“I feel very privileged and I did it because I want all people to know that there is an answer to what’s happening within our lives right now. I wouldn’t take this if I didn’t think this was going to help,” said Mills, who is also a Vuntut Gwitchin elder.

“I’ve gone through a lot of things in my life, (tuberculosis) and everything else, and I just want to live longer for my children and grandchildren,” she added.

Mills said COVID-19’s impact on seniors and elders living at Whistle Bend, including not being able to see family or do things, has contributed to “very low spirits.”

“That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing here,” she said.

Mills’ son, Stephen Mills, was also present on the call. He said the family felt informed and well-briefed about the vaccine ahead of the vaccination despite challenges with elderly people who may have communication issues linked to hearing loss or dementia.

“It’s been a number of days working through some of the questions. It’s just been a reassuring process. … As a family member we’ve been taught talking extensively with my mother, but also with people from Whistle Bend, in a lot of detail about the process that we’re going through, including the potential side effects,” he said.

Merchant lived through the influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1920 and was a trained nurse.

Both women compared the shot to other inoculation campaigns during their lifetime, including a vaccine for tuberculosis. The Bacille Calmette-Guerin anti-TB vaccine was first used in 1921 and remained in use in Canada until the 1970s.

“I wasn’t worried about it at all. I just depend on people who know what they’re doing here. I’ve had lots of vaccinations in my life,” Merchant said. She said her main reason for wanting the vaccine was that she “didn’t want to catch the bug that is going around.”

Mills contracted TB at a residential school when she was 13 and was hospitalized for three years.

“It’s very easy because I have faith in the medical system. I want to enjoy life more with the people around me and get used to being at this stage in life and for my children, my family, and my people of Old Crow,” added Mills.

The third vaccine went to Jun Carpina, a domestic aide who works in the home. Carpina has worked there since the home opened in 2017.

The morning clinic at Whistle Bend was not open to the media.

Instead, the government arranged a telephone call with the first vaccinated individuals and supplied photos.

The first shipment of the Moderna vaccine arrived in Whitehorse on Dec. 28, but wasn’t deployed until Jan. 4. This allowed heath professionals time to undergo training, according to the government release.

Long-term care residents and staff, deemed most at risk from the COVID-19 virus, were identified as the highest priority group to start vaccinations.

Also high on the list are healthcare workers; people over 80 years of age; and Yukoners living in rural and remote communities, including First Nations people.

The government has not released a public timeline of when vaccination for those groups — or the general public — is set to begin. Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost has said the government expects 75 per cent of the adult population of the territory will be vaccinated in early 2021.

The first delivery included 7,200 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. In total, 50,400 vaccines are expected for the territory, with further shipments arriving in January. The vaccine requires two doses per person.

On New Years Day the territory confirmed four new cases of COVID-19 in Whitehorse transmitted via close or household contact with an out-of-territory traveller from British Columbia. An additional connected case, number 65, was identified on Jan. 4.

Public exposure notifications were released for the Dec. 22 Air North flight 2517 Vancouver to Whitehorse, and for Dec. 27 for those who were at the Canada Games Centre in the Wellness Room from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The Yukon government said anyone experiencing COVID-19 like symptoms should self-isolate and remain at home.

“This vaccine will save lives and will protect our most vulnerable. Over time, it will allow us to return to a normal life, but now is not the time to let our guard down. Stay vigilant, continue to practice the Safe 6 plus 1, and get ready to roll up your sleeve,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley in a press release.

Contact Haley Ritchie at