Airline launches giveaway to propel vaccine uptake in N.W.T. communities

According to the N.W.T. COVID-19 dashboard, the Tłı̨chǫ region has the lowest vaccination rate in the territory.

Residents in Hay River, Behchokǫ̀, Fort Simpson, Łutselk'e, Gamètì, Wekweètì and Whatì are eligible

Sheila Laity, a nurse practitioner, talks to a patient before administering the second dose of the Moderna vaccine in Nahanni Butte, N.W.T. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The COVID-19 vaccine campaign in the Northwest Territories is getting a helping hand from a local airline. 

Air Tindi is encouraging residents in Hay River, Behchokǫ̀, Fort Simpson, Łutselk'e, Gamètì, Wekweètì and Whatì to get the shot with a prize giveaway.

"Our communities are so important to us. They've shown us a lot of support over the years, and that is where vaccine uptake is the least," said Chris Reynolds, the airline's president. 

According to the N.W.T. COVID-19 dashboard, the lowest vaccination rate in the territory is in the Tłı̨chǫ region — which includes Behchokǫ, Gamètì, Wekweètì and Whatì. 

There, 44 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated and 54 per cent have their first dose. 

In the Dehcho region, which includes Fort Simpson, 65 per cent of people are fully vaccinated and 71 per cent have their first dose, while in Hay River, 56 per cent of people are fully vaccinated and 64 per cent have their first dose. 

Reynolds said he's encouraging Air Tindi employees and passengers to get vaccinated, but he has more questions than answers about the federal government's plans to make that a requirement for all commercial air travel. (Air Tindi)

The entire territory's rate of fully vaccinated residents is at 61 per cent. Reynolds said it would be "perfect" if it rose to 70 per cent. 

"But even if it's just a reasonable percentage in the small communities, it protects them so much more," he said.

'This is our head office'

The airline feels "responsible" for playing a role in vaccine uptake because of its close relationship with the communities it flies to, said Reynolds, and also because it's one of the large, solely N.W.T.-based airlines.

"All our employees live here. This is our head office," he said. 

Reynolds said the idea came up Friday — and the turnaround was quick. 

Airline employees had 24 hours to provide input, a poster was designed, and by Saturday evening there was a post on Facebook promising free passenger air travel for life, a new Skidoo, and a trip to see the Edmonton Oilers as prizes.

The value, said Reynolds, is around $100,000.

Reynolds said Air Tindi's losses amid the pandemic have been in the tens of millions of dollars, but the airline has seen "so much support" from both the community and the Government of the Northwest Territories. 

"It was important to us to give back, where we can," he said. 

Full-time residents in the eligible communities can enter the Crush COVID Giveaway by submitting a photo of themselves, receiving their second COVID-19 vaccine or a photo of their vaccine card. 

 Reynolds said he's working on a way to verify that the winners announced in mid-September have received both doses.