First doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Yukon, N.W.T.

Yukon and the Northwest Territories each received a shipment of 7,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Monday, the first step in plans for the territories to vaccinate 75 per cent of their adult population by the end of March.

Each territory received 7,200 doses Monday. Vaccinations to start in early 2021

The Moderna vaccine arrived in Yellowknife Dec. 28, 2020. (N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Services)

The first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in Canada's territories.

N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green tweeted on Monday evening that 7,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine had arrived in the territorial capital Yellowknife earlier in the day. They're being kept at Stanton Territorial Hospital.

A statement by Yukon Health Minister Pauline Frost issued Monday evening also confirmed that Yukon had received a shipment of 7,200 doses.

"This is a turning point in Yukon's fight against COVID-19 and is a positive way to end 2020," Frost said in the statement, adding that vaccinations will start next week with long-term care residents and staff.

The shipments are a portion of Moderna's first vaccine shipment to Canada, which arrived on Dec. 24.

The Northwest Territories and Yukon, along with Nunavut, were waiting for the Moderna vaccine to begin their vaccination programs because they lack the health infrastructure necessary to safely store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which must be kept at -70 C to remain stable.

Yukon's vaccine strategy identifies people working and living in long-term care homes, group homes, and shelters; health-care workers; senior citizens; and people living in rural and remote communities as priority groups for the vaccine.

Frost, who was at the airport when the vaccines arrived, told CBC News that there will be enough supply in the North to vaccinate a majority of the eligible adult population and that "we can now look forward to the future when we can start interacting with one another again."

The N.W.T. has not released a detailed vaccination strategy, though they have indicated that one will be coming in early January, with vaccinations to residents beginning in the second week of 2021. 

Earlier this month, N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said that the territory's strategy will prioritize those at risk of severe disease and those at high risk of bringing COVID-19 back into the territory. The strategy will involve consulting with Indigenous and community governments on how to prioritize doses.

The Northwest Territories has been one of the least hard-hit populations in Canada by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 24 total confirmed cases. All but one have recovered.

Yukon has had 60 total confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one death. None of those cases are currently active.

The territories have been identified as a priority for vaccinations due to their remoteness and lack of health infrastructure. All three territories have stated that they expect to receive enough doses of the Moderna vaccine to vaccinate 75 per cent of their adult population by March 2021.

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