Yukon communities face logistical challenges in vaccine rollout

There are many logistical issues facing vaccine clinics in Yukon's smaller communities including communications, lack of suitable space and more.

Suitable space, reaching reluctant or off-grid people among issues facing health officials

While having the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is a major relief for community leaders, it brings with it a set of logistical challenges including finding appropriate space, communications and more. (Mark Kelly Photography/Government of Yukon)

Municipal and First Nations leaders say communication is key to ensuring the COVID-19 vaccine rollout goes smoothly in Yukon's rural communities.

The vaccine's arrival is a major sigh of relief for community leaders, but it brings with it a set of logistical headaches.

In some smaller communities, suitable space is in short supply. Some people don't have a phone. Some are reluctant to get the vaccine.

Mathieya Alatini, who is coordinating the COVID-19 response for the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), said another challenge is suspicion of the vaccine across all age groups in Yukon First Nations.

Mathieya Alatini is managing the Council of Yukon First Nations' COVID-19 response. (Yukon Liberal Party)

Alatini said it's rooted in past mistreatment of Indigenous people by the healthcare system, but it's also being spurred on by misinformation on social media.

"You have to look at it as an opportunity to really share as much information, answer those questions to make or create that comfort that's needed for somebody to get immunized," she said.

Logistical issues abound

There's also the issue of where to hold vaccine clinics. Some smaller communities, Alatini said, may not have many spaces large enough to accommodate the physical layout required for a vaccine clinic. 

"Some of the schools, like I think of the school in Destruction Bay, the basement is a tiny little basement," she said.

Meanwhile, Yukon government officials were set to meet with municipal and First Nation governments this week to sketch out plans for upcoming vaccination clinics. CBC requested an interview with Health and Social Services about planning for vaccine clinics, but did not receive a response by deadline.

The first community clinics are scheduled to begin next week in Watson Lake, Old Crow and Beaver Creek. Vaccination teams will visit Dawson City, Carcross, Tagish, Teslin and Pelly Crossing starting Jan. 25. Online booking for some communities is already available.

Alatini said CYFN is also working on other ways to get the word out, since not everyone is online. 

"It just is not going to be logistically possible to set up a scheduled online appointment in a small community of 200," she said. "It just isn't. This is where common sense has to step in."

Gov't meeting with community leaders this week

Teslin Mayor Gord Curran said Yukon government officials reached out to set up a planning meeting this week. Curran said he's anxious to get more clinic details so he can inform local residents.

"It's a fairly big undertaking given the logistics of rolling this out to the communities, so I have some understanding there," he said. "But at the same time, we do want to start working on those details." 

Dawson Mayor Wayne Potoroka said officials with the town and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in government were scheduled to meet Wednesday. Potoroka said he's still not clear what the town's role in the vaccine clinic will be, but said he's willing to do whatever is needed to ensure people get their shots, even if it's as simple as championing the vaccine.

"I really, truly feel like I have a responsibility to get it," Potoroka said. "It's is not just about protecting myself, but it's about protecting my community and all those people around me."