'We're on top of it,' health minister says to critic of Nunavut vaccine rollout

Nunavut’s Health Minister Lorne Kusugak is defending his department’s plan for vaccination clinics in the territory, and specifically in the capital, Iqaluit.

Iqaluit MLA says vaccine plan leaves public guessing

Nunavut Health Minister Lorne Kusugak is facing criticism over communication with the public about the territory's vaccination rollout, but says 'we're on top of it.' (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Nunavut's Health Minister Lorne Kusugak is defending his department's plan for vaccination clinics in the territory, and specifically in the capital, Iqaluit.

In the legislature on Tuesday, Kusugak faced criticism for a "lack of communication" about the vaccine rollout from Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone. 

"My constituents have been telling me that they feel that the government of Nunavut's communication on the vaccination rollout plan has been lacking. I can't help but agree," Arreak Lightstone said in the Legislative Assembly. 

In Iqaluit, the vaccine was only available to members of priority groups and residents 60 and older, until recently. 

In the Legislature on Tuesday, Kusugak said that Iqaluit Public Health had already moved on to vaccinating residents 55 and older and was now ready to vaccinate residents age 45 and older. 

More than 1,100 Iqaluit residents already received their first dose, Kusugak said, adding that a city-wide vaccination clinic will happen later in March.  

Arreak Lightstone said it's the first he had heard about the change.

"There has been no public announcement about the adjustments and there is no indication on the website," Arreak Lightstone said. "This is the first time that we have heard that there is somewhat of a phased-in approach for the vaccination of Iqalummiut, which I guess will be conducted in different age brackets."

Vaccinations in Nunavut currently depend on how many doses arrive from the federal government, and when. The territory is announcing clinics as those doses arrive. 

In smaller communities, vaccination clinics have been scheduled for the entire population. But in larger centres, restrictions have been put in place, focusing first on elders and front line workers. 

Health minister throws shade at MLA over vaccine dispute

Kusugak denied Arreak Lightstone's claim and applauded the long hours being worked by public health staff to vaccinate city residents. 

"The public does know, Mr. Speaker, and it is unfortunate that Mr. Lightstone didn't know, but the public seems to know. We are on top of it," Kusugak said.

"It's amazing how we have vaccinated over 1,000 people in Iqaluit, and Mr. Lightstone didn't even know there was a vaccination happening." 

A few hours afterwards, a public service announcement was released by the department saying Iqaluit residents aged 45 and over can get vaccinated starting March 1.

"At this time, Iqaluit Public Health asks that only Iqalummiut who are in the identified priority groups call to make an appointment," a spokesperson from the ministers office said in an email. 

Iqaluit Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone says it's unclear in Iqaluit who in is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Outside of the capital, anyone can call to sign up for a future vaccination clinic.

"As mass immunization clinics for adults in all other communities in Nunavut started in early January and will continue throughout February and March, it is appropriate for individuals eligible to receive the vaccine to contact their local health centre to book an appointment," the department said.  

Upcoming dates for clinics in communities have also been announced.

Before the announcement, Pond Inlet MLA David Qamaniq said dates for community clinics have been unclear. Clinics are currently scheduled until mid and late March, but Pond Inlet has yet to have a clinic scheduled. 

Qamaniq asked if second doses will have to wait until April or May for some communities that haven't seen vaccination clinics yet, even though the territory had hoped to vaccinate 75 per cent of the eligible population by the end of March.   

Kusugak said clinic dates can be weather- and charter-dependent, so communities might not know specific dates for their clinics until two or three days before they take place. 

"We will take another look at the rollout plan and see where we could tweak it to make some improvements," he said. 

Kusugak also reminded residents that the vaccine doesn't mean residents will be able to travel without isolating.