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'I feel very privileged': Yukon gives out 1st COVID-19 vaccinations

Yukon administered its first COVID-19 vaccines on Monday at the Whistle Bend Place continuing care facility in Whitehorse. Doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in the territory one week ago.

50 people were to be vaccinated in the territory Monday

Agnes Mills, who is 84 years old, was the first person in Yukon to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Mark Kelly Photography/Government of Yukon)

Yukon administered its first COVID-19 vaccines on Monday.

The Moderna vaccine arrived in the territory one week ago, when 7,200 doses touched down.

Two residents of the Whistle Bend Place care facility in Whitehorse were the first to get the shots on Monday afternoon.

Agnes Mills, who is 84 years old, was the first person in Yukon to receive the vaccine.

"I feel very privileged, and I did it because I want all people to know that there is an answer to what's happening within our life right now," said Mills.

Mills, who is a Vuntut Gwitchin elder from Old Crow, said that she trusts the vaccine and has faith in the medical system.

"I've gone through a lot in my life, like TB and everything else, and I just want to live longer, for my children and my grandchildren," Mills said.

Stephen Mills was by his mother's side on Monday as she got the vaccine, and said there were a lot of conversations with residents leading up to the big day.

"As a family member, we've been talking extensively with my mother but also with people from Whistle Bend in a lot of detail about sort of the process we're going through including the potential side effects," Stephen said.

The second recipient of the Moderna vaccine in Yukon was a Whistle Bend Place resident — Mary Merchant, 103. (Mark Kelly Photography/Government of Yukon)

Mary Merchant, who is 103 years old, was also one of the first in line to receive the vaccine and said she "wasn't worried about it" at all.

Merchant was born in Scotland and survived the influenza pandemic of 1918-20. She is a trained nurse who moved to Yukon in 1995, and is strongly supportive of vaccinations.

"I've had many, many vaccinations during my life but I've never had a bad reaction, you know? It doesn't bother me at all," said Merchant.

"I would recommend it to anybody," she said.

The third vaccine went to Jun Carpina, who has worked as a domestic aide in the care facility since it opened in 2017.

The third vaccine in Yukon went to Jun Carpina, who works in the care facility. (Mark Kelly Photography/Government of Yukon)

Focus on long-term care residents and staff 

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

The territorial government says its plan is to get 75 per cent of the territory's adult population vaccinated by the end of March.

Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Clarissa Wall confirmed with CBC in an email that 50 vaccines in total will be administered on Monday.

"The plan for this week is to continue with long-term care residents and staff," said Wall.

The department did not immediately provide details on what the vaccination plan looks like in the coming weeks, and when the vaccines will arrive in the territory's remote communities.

Health Minister Pauline Frost with Jun Carpina, who was the third person in the territory to receive the vaccine Monday. (Mark Kelly Photography/Government of Yukon)

Health Minister Pauline Frost told CBC the vaccines represent "a major step forward" in the fight against COVID-19, and she encourages other Yukoners to follow the leadership shown by those who got vaccinated on Monday.

"Vaccines will, you know, help us to save lives ... it allows us hopefully to return to a life of normalcy that we've seen prior to 2020."

Frost said the first priority group consists of just over 1,100 people, and the government is hopeful that "all who are in this category choose to take the vaccine."

Frost said that an additional 7,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive "very shortly". The Moderna vaccine requires two doses, administered 28 to 35 days apart. 

On Monday afternoon the territorial government reported one new case of COVID-19 in the territory, linked to a previous case. The person is a Whitehorse resident, and is self-isolating at home. This brings the territory's total case count to 65, with five that are active.

In a news release sent Monday afternoon, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said the best thing that Yukoners can do to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 is get vaccinated when their turn comes.

"Over time, it will allow us to return to a normal life, but now is not the time to let our guard down. Stay vigilant, continue to practice the 'Safe 6 plus 1,' and get ready to roll up your sleeve," said Hanley.

with files from Jackie Hong

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