N.W.T. to launch campaign addressing vaccine hesitancy

Health officials in the Northwest Territories will be launching a campaign to address vaccine hesitancy.

The campaign will go until April, when vaccine teams return to communities

On CBC's The Trailbreaker on Thursday, N.W.T's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said that the territorial government will be ramping up its communications strategy and campaign to address vaccine hesitancy in the territory starting next week. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC)

Health officials in the Northwest Territories will be launching a new campaign to address vaccine hesitancy.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, says though the N.W.T. is doing well in its vaccinations, it's an issue that needs to be addressed in the next round of shots.

On CBC's The Trailbreaker on Thursday morning, Kandola said that as of Monday, about 50 per cent of the territory's eligible population had received their first dose.

"We have a really good uptake, but we want to approach 75 per cent," Kandola said.

The territory is currently leading the country in percentage of population vaccinated, with the latest numbers showing 11,151 people — or about 25 per cent of the total population — who have received both shots.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Julie Green announced that all adult Yellowknife residents can now book appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

But Kandola said that while the numbers are looking good so far, officials are noticing a discrepancy in uptake between some communities.

"We will be looking at those figures at the community level, at the regional level, and see how it compares to the overall territorial level."

Vaccine hesitancy campaign to go until April

Kandola said these numbers will inform a vaccine hesitancy campaign between now and April, when the COVID-19 immunization team will be returning to communities.

"We need to look at these communities, talk to the local governments where the uptake is low, and see if we can address any concerns and increase the numbers," said Kandola, adding that the territorial government will ramp up its communication strategy next week.

Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, the territory's medical director, said on The Trailbreaker on Thursday that the concern is that if someone got infected and went into a smaller community, the entire community could be at risk.

"That community would be at risk for an outbreak, whereas another community with a higher level of vaccination would not have the outbreak to this degree," said Pegg.

Kandola said this could mean that as the territory moves into the third phase of its reopening plan, there could be lockdowns. 

"If certain communities have low uptake and they were to … experience an outbreak, we would have to look at that overall immunity," said Kandola, adding that health officials might impose a lockdown to protect those communities with lower vaccine uptake against severe outbreaks of COVID-19.  

Caroline Douglas, a resident of the Jimmy Erasmus Seniors Home in Behchokǫ̀, gives the thumbs up sign after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Service)

'No pain, no gain'

The best way to decrease the risk of severity, she said, is to get the vaccine. 

Pegg also said that people should not back away from getting the shot because they are fearful of some of the symptoms people are reporting after getting vaccinated.

She said some side effects reported — commonly more pronounced in the second dose — include fatigue, muscle aches and fever. Pegg said these can usually last for about 24 hours, or a bit longer for some people.

"I just want to reinforce that the presence of those side effects, that's a sign that your body is making antibodies. So it's reacting to something being introduced into the body and it's producing a reaction from your immune system," said Pegg.

She said that while the symptoms can be unpleasant, reports show that contracting COVID-19 can be even more unpleasant.

"I really encourage people to look at it in a positive way. Sort of a no pain no gain kind of way, in that those side effects mean that your body is doing its job and that it's making lots of antibodies."

with files from Loren McGinnis and Jared Monkman