On Dec. 3, the Liberal government blocked a motion by the Yukon Party that would have asked the federal government to provide the territories with more than a per capita amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses during initial distribution.
Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers introduced a motion of “Urgent and Pressing Necessity” in the House. The special motion allows for the introduction of opposition motions outside of the usual allowances if all members of the legislature agree.
“This motion is fairly simple. We want to send a united message to Ottawa that we believe rural and remote parts of this country cannot be treated the same as urban centres, and this is particularly true in the North,” Cathers said.
Cathers said providing more vaccines than per capita makes sense because the territories have a large landmass, low population and limited healthcare capacity.
Premier Sandy Silver said the provinces, territories and federal government are working cooperatively.
“We have no interest in politicizing the vaccine,” Silver said. “If we thought that there was serious intent here to work with us to help, that might be a different situation.”
NDP leader Kate White said she would have been interested in the motion being debated.
“I think it’s unfortunate, but not unexpected. What we’ve seen from this government time and time again, it’s their way or the highway. There’s not a lot of compromising and working together,” she said.
The federal government has not officially confirmed yet if vaccines will be distributed on a per capita basis. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said talks are ongoing, and certain vaccines may be better suited to different populations.
“I don’t have concerns right now on the distribution, I don’t have concerns right now on how the nation is working together to get this vaccine out,” Silver said.
“Every jurisdiction is talking about elderly populations, continuing care facilities, every jurisdiction is talking about frontline workers. Yukon is bringing forth a narrative that we need to see the northern, remote and Indigenous communities prioritized,” he said.
The most recent update from the Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that they expect to initially receive six million vaccine doses by the end of March 2021, although the situation is still changing and no vaccines have been approved by Health Canada yet.
On a per-capita basis, that would result in the Yukon getting around 6,639 vaccine doses. If the first vaccine obtained by Canada requires two doses, that would mean 3,319 doses available in the first round of availability.
Millions more vaccine doses are expected later as production continues.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has released guidelines that suggest four priority groups for immunizations: residents and staff of long-term care and retirement homes, seniors 80 years and older (dropping to 70 years and older when more is available), health care workers and Indigenous communities.
The governments of the territories and provinces will have the final say on who receives the vaccine first.
If vaccines are distributed on a per capita basis, that would mean some decision-making on behalf of the Yukon government in a territory with a large population of both seniors and Indigenous people.
Although there is likely overlap between the two categories, the territory had 852 seniors over 80 years old and 8,591 Indigenous residents, according to data from the Yukon Bureau of Statistics. The territory also has three hospitals with close to 600 staff members and five long-term care homes.
The Yukon Party has been calling on the government to release its preliminary vaccine distribution plan. On Dec. 3, British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she’ll provide a detailed vaccine plan next week.
“The government has claimed there is a plan for vaccine rollout but so far they’ve kept it secret,” said Cathers.
Premier Sandy Silver has insisted that the plans can’t be released yet because they are hypothetical and evolving until the vaccines are approved and the federal government releases firm details.
He said there will be “more details very, very soon” but stressed the safe six and masks for now.
Silver referenced the recent flu vaccine campaign as evidence that the Yukon already has efficient systems set up for vaccine distribution. The variables will be what types of vaccines are approved by Health Canada and distributed — some may require cold storage, while others may require two doses.
“We can tell Yukoners confidently that we are absolutely ready for the distribution,” he said.
“We will be announcing vaccine rollout (right away) when we have all the details, not a second beforehand.”
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