'Making history': 1st N.W.T. teen gets COVID-19 vaccine

Riley Oldford, 16, has cerebral palsy and a chronic lung disease. On Thursday he was among the first batch of teens to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the N.W.T.

16-year-old Riley Oldford has had to isolate for most of the pandemic

Riley Oldford, 16, gets the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Thursday. Janie Neudorf, right, is the nurse who administered it. She said Riley is 'making history.' (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Northwest Territories youth 12 years old and up were able to line up for the COVID-19 shot for the first time on Thursday.

And it was welcome news for Riley Oldford, 16, who lives with cerebral palsy and a chronic lung disease.

The territory started with youth in Yellowknife, where the city is grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak involving over 1,000 contacts.

Until now in the N.W.T., the vaccine distribution was solely based on the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which is approved for those 18 years of age and older. On Tuesday, the N.W.T. received 1,170 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, recently approved by Health Canada for youth aged 12 and up.

For the past 14 months, most of Riley's time has been spent isolating at home, including doing school from home and only playing sledge hockey with a specific group of friends.

Now he's one step closer to being able to hang around other friends and be in public with a bit more peace of mind.

"It's pretty cool. I didn't think I'd be the first … It's great," Oldford said.

Riley says he's looking forward to "hanging out with friends and if possible — and the situation isn't too bad — [going to] southern provinces, travelling to see family." 

Riley Oldford, 16, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. He says he's looking forward to hanging out with friends and going out in public with a bit more peace of mind once he's fully vaccinated. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Sharon Oldford, his mother, says the family has been extra cautious this past year and longer — whenever she and her husband come home, they change their clothes and keep their distance from Riley.

Sharon says having her son vaccinated will make a difference for the family.

"I think the biggest part is that reduction in anxiety, that ability to be able to socialize a little bit more, the ability not to everyday be thinking and worrying about the what ifs," she said.

"It doesn't eliminate the possibilities, but it definitely reduces it and helps keep our family safe."

'We're really honoured'

Janie Neudorf, a nurse and the supervisor to the COVID-19 immunization response team, gave Riley his shot on Thursday.

She said the staff have been training and reviewing protocols that morning. Riley was their first patient.

A pile of 'I got COVID-19 vaccination' pins on a table at the Centre square Mall COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Yellowknife. In the background, Riley Oldford receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"We want to say we're really honoured to have Riley here with us … it is a special clinic today because it's the first time that we have been able to give a vaccine against COVID ... to youth between 12 and up to 17," Neudorf said.

"Riley here is making history because he's the first one that we're doing and it's the first [child] that has not had to have [chief public health officer] approval — he's made the decision on his own with his family to have this vaccine."

'A little freer, less scared'

Juniper Falvo, 15, is one of many teens whose high school closed because of the outbreak. She says she was excited to get the jab.

"It's a chance for us to finally participate in fighting against the coronavirus and it's a chance for us to protect not only ourselves but our community and our family," she said.

Yellowknife teens Jimena Maule, left, and Juniper Falvo, right, say they're looking forward to being vaccinated, partly so they can help protect their families and communities. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Jimena Maule, 15, says getting the shot will ease the worry and make her feel "a little freer and less scared."

"I think if everyone keeps following the protocols, and making sure that everyone stay safe," she said, "we'll be able to soon go back to our normal," Maule said. "And I'm really excited about that"

Health Minister Julie Green told CBC she applauds all those who are getting vaccinated, including teens who say they want to protect their communities.

"I thought that was such a generous thing to say. And also inspiring," Green said. "Sure nobody runs towards the needle, but it provides protection."

There are plans to vaccinate 200 youth on Saturday and another 200 on Monday.

Next week, the territory plans to announce times for a vaccination clinic for youth who are currently in self-isolation.

Plans to vaccinate youth outside of Yellowknife are in the works too; a clinic for youth in Behchoko is scheduled for Tuesday. Those who have questions about the vaccine, are urged to reach out to their health care provider for more information.

"I just think that it's great news that we now have a supply of vaccine to offer to these to these young people," Green said. "I encourage them to take that offer up."

Written by Amy Tucker, with files from and Alice Twa, Kate Kyle and The Trailbreaker