Arviat woman whose husband died urges Nunavummiut to get COVID-19 vaccine

During a press conference at the Legislative Assembly, the territory heard an emotional message about vaccines from Arviat resident Diane Sammurtok, who lost her husband to COVID-19.

More vaccine doses arriving on Thursday and Friday in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet

Nunavummiut heard a recording of Diane Sammurtok's urgent call for vaccination Thursday during a government update on COVID-19 at the Nunavut Legislature. Sammurtok is grieving the loss of her husband who contracted COVID-19 in an outbreak in Arviat. (Facebook)

The territory heard an emotional message about vaccines today from one Arviat resident who lost her husband to COVID-19. 

An audio recording of Diane Sammurtok's urgent call for vaccination in Nunavut, originally shared on Arviat's local radio station, was replayed Thursday during a government COVID-19 press conference at the Legislative Assembly. 

"I will never have my husband back," Sammurtok said. "My husband Luki did not receive the vaccine so he had nothing to fight it. Please get the COVID shot, so you don't go through what I had to go through. Watching your loved ones pass away is not a joke." 

Luki Sammurtok is the only Nunavut resident reported to have died after contracting COVID-19 within Nunavut.

"It pierces the heart," Premier Joe Savikataaq said of the woman's message. "I want people to know how real and how hurtful COVID-19 can be. She does not want anyone to go through what she went through. 

"Please make an appointment to be vaccinated."

Missed the press conference? Watch it here: 

There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. The territory has seen 266 cases in total. There are 328 people being followed by public health for symptoms of or potential contact with COVID-19, Savikataaq said. 

Over 600 people in the territory are currently estimated to have received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said.

There have been no reports of negative or adverse experiences from people who have gotten the vaccine in Nunavut, Patterson said, adding that feeling a bit faint is a normal response to getting a needle. 

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq gives live government updates as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. A second shipment of vaccines will arrive in Nunavut on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15. (Beth Brown/CBC )

More vaccines coming today

Deliveries of more Moderna vaccines are expected to arrive Thursday and Friday in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet. Each community will see 3,000 doses. Another shipment is expected the week of Feb. 1.

Vaccination clinics are now scheduled for Chesterfield Inlet, Baker Lake and Whale Cove, starting next week and the week after. 

Clinic dates for those communities are: 

  • Rankin Inlet, Jan. 18-Jan. 21.
  • Whale Cove, Jan. 19-20.
  • Chesterfield Inlet, Jan. 22-23. 
  • Baker Lake, Jan 25-27 for priority populations. 

In Baker Lake, priority will be given to elders aged 65 and older, and to health staff. This may be expanded if supply allows. 

Patterson says the territory will focus on the Kivalliq region for vaccinations. Medical travel to the South puts that central region most at risk of bringing the virus back into the territory, he said. 

Joe Manik of Arviat receives the first vaccine given in the community from nurse Ronnie Beltran-Yu. (Submitted by Helen-Rose England)

Arviat clinic underway

Vaccination clinics are underway in Arviat and Cambridge Bay, starting today. Clinics in Gjoa Haven and Igloolik are finished. 

Starting Monday, seniors in Iqaluit aged 65 and over will be able to get the vaccine, along with anyone who lives in or works at a shelter. Appointments should be made by calling Iqaluit Public Health at 867-975-4810.

Clinic times are: 

  • Iqaluit Public Health: Jan. 18-22 from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. 
  • Qikiqtani General Hospital: Jan. 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.   

"Social distancing, hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning practices will be in place to help keep everyone healthy," the territory said in a news release Wednesday. "For the protection of yourself and the community, we encourage you to wear your own mask to your appointment."

Patterson said the government won't be creating a vaccination program in isolation hotels, where residents are staying for two weeks before returning home from other provinces or territories. But testing is ongoing in the isolation hubs. While it is voluntary, more than 90 per cent of people in the isolation hubs are choosing to get tested for COVID-19, he said. 

This will be the last televised update for the coming weeks, as the Legislative Assembly will be in use for standing committee meetings. The government will continue to update the public about vaccination clinics using public service announcements and social media.

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. 

You can listen to the news conference in full later in the afternoon on the CBC Nunavut radio show Tusaajaksat.