'Great news': Moderna COVID-19 vaccine expected across the North by next week

Health Canada's approval of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine means that people in Canada's territories can expect to start getting vaccinations beginning in the first weeks of January.

The vaccine received final approval from Health Canada on Wednesday

The territorial government says that the first Yukoners eligible for the vaccine will be long-term care residents and staff. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool photo/The Associated Press)

Health Canada's approval of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine means that people in Canada's territories can expect to start getting vaccinations beginning in the first weeks of January.

The federal department approved Moderna's vaccine for use in this country on Wednesday, clearing the way for thousands of doses to arrive by month's end. 

The approval means vaccinations can now begin in remote and Indigenous communities across the North, which haven't seen any doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine because they lack the freezer equipment necessary to safely store it at -70 C. 

Yukon is 'in a really good place,' says premier

Yukon's Minister of Health and Social Services Pauline Frost told CBC that doses are expected to arrive by the end of December, though a definitive date remains unclear.

"We will start the vaccinations in early 2021, so right early in January," said Frost.

The territorial government says that the first Yukoners eligible for the vaccine will be long-term care residents and staff, along with healthcare workers.

Frost said the overall goal is to get as many Yukoners vaccinated.

"Our first delivery will be 7,200 doses, which is enough to vaccinate 3,600 Yukoners, as Moderna requires two doses delivered one month apart," said Frost in a release sent Wednesday.

Premier Sandy Silver told CBC on Wednesday that the territory is well-prepared to give out the vaccine.

"This is great news, great news for the North, great news for rural, remote, and Indigenous communities ... we are in a really good place right now for the distribution," said Silver.

The government expects further shipments to arrive in January.

Silver said the territory received a commitment from the federal government before the approval, that 75 per cent of the adult population in Yukon will be able to get vaccinated early next year.

"In the first three months [of 2021], any adult Yukoner that wants a vaccine will have access. So this is a great day for lots of different reasons," said Silver.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said Tuesday that the territory will have a centralized depot in Whitehorse for the vaccine once it arrives.

He said teams are going over the logistics of delivering the vaccines outside of Whitehorse, and getting the supplies and training in place to prepare communities for the arrival of the mobile teams.

Yukon's entire vaccine strategy can be found here.

N.W.T. making final preparations

The Northwest Territories is also expecting to receive 7,200 doses of the vaccine by the end of the year. 

The territory's health and social services minister, Julie Green, told CBC on Wednesday that she expects vaccines will begin to be administered in the N.W.T. in the second week of January.

The hope is to have teams fan out across the territory to vaccinate the top priority group first — elders who live in nursing homes. Then the territorial government plans to work its way through the priority list established by the territory's chief public health officer, as vaccines become available.

But the territory still has some work to do including hiring, communications, and logistics before the arrival of the vaccine.

In a news release sent Wednesday afternoon, Green is quoted as saying the territorial government will have its vaccine rollout approach released in early that same month.

"The GNWT also continues to work with Joint Task Force to ensure the vaccine is distributed as efficiently as possible given the N.W.T.'s unique geography and climate," said Green in the release.

In an interview with CBC's Power and Politics, N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane said a "huge educational component" will be rolled out with the vaccines.

She says there's a population that doesn't believe in immunizations, or in COVID-19.

She also said there's an Indigenous population that, given its history, believe they're being used as "guinea pigs."

"So we have our own work to do," she said.

Nunavut finalizing plans for fly-in communities

The Nunavut government expects to have up to 6,000 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine by the end of December, Premier Joe Savikataaq said Wednesday. 

Plans for vaccination programs in Nunavut's 25 fly-in communities are still being finalized but Premier Savikataaq said the holiday season won't slow down rollout plans.

Nunavut has been promised enough doses to inoculate up to 75 per cent of the adult population in the first three months of 2021.

The territory has said it will first vaccinate elders, long-term care workers and frontline health care staff. 

How effective is the Moderna vaccine?

Health Canada announced the approval after completing a review of the Massachusetts-based biotechnology company's clinical trial data.

The information analyzed by the federal department was from a Phase 3 trial that involved over 30,000 individuals in the U.S., half of whom received the vaccine while the other half received a placebo. 

The vaccine was found to be 94.1 per cent effective in participants with no prior COVID-19 infection and 86.5 per cent effective in people over the age of 65, according to Health Canada.

During the trial, Health Canada said 30 people in the placebo group experienced severe cases of COVID-19, compared to none from the vaccine group.

Data showed the vaccine's effectiveness and safety was consistent across age, sex and ethnicity.

with files from Beth Brown, Richard Gleeson, Elyn Jones, and Dave White


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