Territories not likely to get Pfizer vaccine in near future, says Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said up to 249,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine will be available in Canada by the end of this year - but they won't be coming north any time soon.

Logistical challenges associated with distribution mean it won't be going to the territories any time soon

The federal government said the territories indicated a preference for other vaccine candidates because of the logistical challenges associated with distributing the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at ultra-cold temperature. (Yui Mok/The Associated Press)

The territories aren't likely to receive doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine any time soon.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said up to 249,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine will be available in Canada by the end of this year

But, he said, the "more significant logistical challenges" associated with distributing the Pfizer vaccine — which Trudeau said must be stored at -80 C — mean it won't be going to northern communities right away. 

Pfizer says the vaccine must be stored in a freezer at 80 C to 60 C or in a thermal container at 90 C to 60 C.

He said territorial residents would be among those to be inoculated with the first 3 million doses, which are expected in the beginning of 2021. 

"We have worked very closely with the premiers in the northern territories, as well as Indigenous leaders across the country. We know that they are a priority population," said Trudeau. He said the first 3 million doses would be a mix of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander who's leading the vaccine distribution effort, said the territories indicated a preference for other vaccine candidates, "because of the complexity associated with distributing the Pfizer vaccine."

"We're very much paying attention to the priorities and making those vaccines available as rapidly as possible once they're approved," he said. 

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, made similar statements last Friday.

He said Nunavut is more likely to get the Moderna vaccine because the Pfizer vaccine's strict storage and shipping requirements aren't appropriate for remote communities. 

He said Nunavut's vaccines would be mostly, if not entirely, from Moderna.

The Northwest Territories Health Department declined to comment, but Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green said on Facebook that the N.W.T. prefers the Moderna vaccine because it's easier to transport and store in northern communities.

Yukon's office of the chief medical officer of health didn't immediately responded to a request for comment.

A spokesperson with the Department of Health and Social Services said the government is planning a COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic located in Whitehorse, with mobile teams fanning out to distribute the vaccine in rural communities. 

"Yukon is aligned with other jurisdictions on priority areas, including elderly populations, long-term care residents, front-line healthcare workers, and Indigenous, rural and remote communities," spokesperson Pat Living wrote in an email. 

"Once we have more details on vaccine availability, which vaccine we will receive and a national decision on how vaccines will be allocated to the provinces and territories, we will be updating the public."

With files from Chris Windeyer


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