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Preliminary COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans announced by Nunavut government

As of Monday, there are 49 active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, all in Arviat.

Multiple scenarios have been planned for based on vaccine arrival, says territory's top doctor

Premier Joe Savikataaq gives a live government update today as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. (Beth Brown/CBC )

The Nunavut government announced some preliminary plans for how it will rollout the Moderna vaccine once doses are in hand next year. 

Syringes, needles and alcohol swabs needed for the vaccine are already in territory, and two medical grade freezers arrived over the weekend to increase storage capacity for vaccine doses in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson. He made the announcement in a Monday news conference at the Legislative Assembly. 

The territory knows it will receive enough doses of the Moderna vaccine in the first three months of 2021 to vaccinate 75 per cent of the adult population. However, it does not know how the deliveries will be scheduled, Patterson said. That's why it is planning for multiple scenarios.

If only a small amount of vaccines arrive in the early new year, "we will be taking a very focused approach by first vaccinating those at the very highest risk of complications from COVID-19," he said. 

If vaccines arrive in bulk early on, he said the territory will look at mass immunization. 

"Every year vaccination campaigns across the territory come with logistical challenges," he said, adding that a H1N1 vaccination was successful. He said health staff are practiced at delivering vaccine programs and the COVID-19 vaccination is no exception.

The Moderna vaccine is still awaiting approval from Health Canada. 

Missed the update? Watch it here:

Nine new cases in Arviat on Monday

As of Monday, there were nine new cases in Arviat, bring the total active COVID-19 cases there to 49, the only active cases in Nunavut. There are 207 people recovered territory-wide in total.

Public health is following 642 people for symptoms or potential contact. Nunavut has seen 256 cases since early November. 

The vaccine will be for priority groups like elders and essential healthcare workers first, then adults over 18 years old will be able to get it. 

"People have asked if the vaccine is safe. It is," Patterson said. 

There were over 30,000 participants already for Moderna vaccine testing, he said, and called Canada's vaccine approval "thorough."

Patterson said global cooperation and finances for human and technical resources allowed the process for the vaccine to be sped up. 

Residents who are vaccinated will still be required to follow isolation protocols, Patterson said, because health officials don't know yet how quickly herd immunity will happen.

That means, he explained, having "enough people in the population protected that if the virus does arrive it can't go very far [nor] very fast and the risk of an outbreak, like what has happened in Arviat, is very small."

While the threshold for that immunity isn't yet known, Patterson guessed more than 60 per cent of adults would have to get the vaccine to see that happen. 

'Light at the end of the tunnel'

He doesn't know how long it will take for restrictions to be lifted after vaccinations begin, but said Health staff will have to monitor the results of a vaccination campaign, and measures are likely to ease gradually. 

For the isolation hubs, he said they will go away "as soon as it's safe."

The vaccines are not going to be for children or pregnant women. It takes a lot longer to approve vaccines for children, and to get enough children recruited for testing, Patterson said.

The vaccines will be free. 

Premier Joe Savikataaq asked Nunavummiut to educate themselves about the vaccine. 

"I know there is some misinformation and fear around the vaccine. This will be our best defence," he said. "My family and I will all get vaccinated when it is our turn. The vaccine could be the light at the end of the tunnel."

Anyone who may have had contact with COVID-19 is asked to call a COVID-hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET, or to notify their community health centre, and isolate at home for 14 days, the Health department said. 

The Health department is asking residents not to visit their community health centres in person. 

You can watch the live news conference here or on the CBC Nunavut Facebook page. It will air later in the day on CBC radio.

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