As vaccination clinics get underway, Nunavut officials speak out against vaccine hesitancy

Nunavut's health minister says spreading untrue information about the vaccine could put lives at risk.

Health minister urges residents to get the vaccine whether they want to or not

Lorne Kusugak is Nunavut's minister of health. In a press conference Tuesday he urged Nunavummiut to get vaccinated for COVID-19. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Nunavut officials are urging Nunavummiut to embrace the COVID-19 Moderna vaccine. 

Both the premier and health minister spoke out against vaccine hesitancy on Tuesday in a press conference at the Legislative Assembly.

Health Minister Lorne Kusugak says the vaccine is the way residents will be able to come together again as a community, in person, for hockey tournaments, square dancing and community feasts.

"If we don't take the vaccine and follow the recommendations of public health officials, 2021 won't be much different from 2020," Kusugak said.  

"It is certified and it is safe to use," he added. "Even if you don't believe in it, you should get it for those that you are going to be close to and that you could pass it on to. I encourage you to choose to take the vaccine."

He also urged residents not to spread untruths about the vaccine or use "scare tactics."

"People's lives are at risk here. Children's lives and elders' lives," he said.

Missed the press conference? Watch it here: 

A community clinic vaccination program started in Nunavut on Monday in Gjoa Haven and Igloolik. Residents need an appointment to be vaccinated. Clinics will start in Arviat and Cambridge Bay on Thursday.

In Cambridge Bay, 60 per cent of all adults have already made appointments, Premier Joe Savikataaq said. 

"It is safe," he said of the vaccine. "Just because someone claims it is harmful, does not make it true."

"It is not a cure for COVID-19, but it will help us fight the virus," he said. 

Last week, elders and long-term care staff in Iqaluit received the first vaccines to be given out in the territory. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said that elders have not experienced any significant negative effects from taking the vaccine. 

As of Monday, nearly 400 residents were vaccinated, Patterson said. 

There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. The territory has seen 266 COVID-19 cases in total. There are 361 people being followed for symptoms of, or contact with COVID-19, Savikataaq said.

Iqaluit will vaccinate elders, shelter residents

With a shipment of 6,000 more doses of the Moderna vaccine expected to arrive sometime this week, more vaccines are planned in Iqaluit for at-risk groups. 

Starting next week, Iqaluit Public Health and the Qikiqtani General Hospital will have vaccine clinics by appointment for elders age 65 and older, people who live in shelters and shelter workers. 

At Iqaluit Public Health, clinics will be held from Jan. 18-22 from 1 p.m. to 7 pm. The clinic side of the Qikiqtani General hospital will offer vaccinations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 23.

Residents should call Iqaluit Public Health to make an appointment. 

Rankin Inlet will also have a community clinic during the week of Jan. 18. Appointments are necessary. Clinics in other communities will be announced in the coming days.

By mid-February, the territory says it expects to have received a total of 18,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine. 

Public health restrictions in Arviat and Whale Cove, which were more strict than in other communities, are beginning to ease on Tuesday, Patterson announced Monday. The outbreaks are not yet declared over, but schools and daycares can open part-time. 

In Arviat and Whale Cove, masks are still mandatory and the limit on indoor gathering is being increased to 10 people in addition to household members. Restaurants are still serving takeout only. Workplaces can open and a larger number of people may gather outdoors. 

There have been no new cases in either community for two weeks. Travel restrictions in the communities are lifted, although the territory's chief public health officer continues to recommend against non-essential travel.

The government is asking Nunavummiut who think they've been exposed to COVID-19 to call the COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET, or notify their community health centre right away.