Youth vaccine campaign planned for Cree communities in northern Quebec

Pushing for youth vaccination could have good results in a territory where youth make up more than 10 per cent of the population.

Drive to vaccinate youth between ages 12 and 17 will prevent spread, protect elders

Wemindji Youth Chief Douglas Hughboy is vaccinated on Jan. 18. The Cree health board is preparing a youth vaccination campaign they hope to launch before the end of the school year in June. (Credit Katherine Dehm/CBHSSJB)

The Cree health board in northern Quebec is busy planning its vaccination campaign for youth between the ages of 12 and 17. 

In Eeyou Istchee, there are a couple thousand people in that age group, making up more than 10 per cent of the population, said Dr. Colleen Fuller, a public health doctor working for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in young people. 

Cree health board officials say there are around 2,200 young people who will be eligible to get vaccinated in this age group. They hope the campaign will start before the end of the school year in June. 

There are approximately 2,200 young people aged 12 to 17, according to Cree health board officials, representing more than one in 10 people in the overall Cree population. (Credit: Katherine Dehm/CBHSSJB)

Fuller said having this segment of the population vaccinated will help protect everybody. 

"It really adds to the overall level of community protection … so that we don't get an outbreak that could spread in the schools and through social networks and eventually reach the unvaccinated or elderly people," said Fuller. 

The vaccination campaign for Cree adults began on Jan. 16 and according to the Cree health board, more than 86 per cent of adults have received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. About 60 per cent have received a second dose.

Pfizer-BioNTech is the only vaccine that is approved for use in people aged 12 to 17. 

Fuller said the logistics of the youth campaign are dictated by the temperature requirements of the Pfizer vaccine. 

The former Miss Eeyou Eenou Nation received a vaccination on Jan. 16 in Waskaganish. (Credit: Rupert Stream/CBHSSJB)

The current Canadian guidelines require the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be stored between –80 C and –60 C.

"We'll have to be tighter with the scheduling of appointments," said Fuller, adding that it will mean shipping smaller amounts of vaccine more often to the communities. 

"Instead of delivering 2,000 doses to the North and having it there for the whole month, we will ship maybe 30 or 40 doses every week," she said.

This week, health officials in Europe revised the temperature requirements for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine downwards, and a review is underway in Canada.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are messenger RNA vaccines or mRNA vaccines. These types of vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response, without using the live virus that causes COVID-19.

Vaccination helps develop antibodies to fight infection, should a person come into contact with the virus in the future.