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Yukon's manager of community nursing explains territory's vaccine roll-out

Territorial health officials have been working with Yukon’s chief medical officer, as well as the federal National Advisory Committee on Immunization, to determine where to begin vaccinating Yukoners.

People in continuing care homes, border communities, jail among first to be vaccinated

Yukon residents in continuing care homes, border communities and people who are in custody and work at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre will be among the first to get vaccinated, says Yukon’s manager of community nursing. (Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press)

Yukon's COVID-19 vaccination campaign is underway with its 500th resident receiving their first dose last week. 

But it would be an understatement to say it's a logistical challenge to inject not just one, but two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of three-quarters of the territory's adult population by the spring.

"A lot of planning and careful planning and attention, with multiple partners across multiple levels, goes into making something like this a success," said Jane Boutette, Yukon's manager of community nursing.

Territorial health officials have been working with Yukon's chief medical officer, as well as the federal National Advisory Committee on Immunization, to determine where to begin, said Boutette. People who are "highest risk" are getting vaccinated in the first stage, starting with residents and staff in Whitehorse's continuing care homes, she said.

"We don't receive all of our vaccine all at once," said Boutette. "There's competition across the world for this vaccine right now, and Yukon's in a really privileged position to be receiving some of the first doses."

'We can't be everywhere all at once'

On Wednesday, the vaccination team will be in Dawson City, Yukon. Next week, they'll travel to Watson Lake and Beaver Creek — border communities in which there's a greater chance of people travelling in and out of the territory. 

Old Crow is also higher on the list of priority communities, said Boutette, because it's a primarily Indigenous community and receives flights from outside Yukon.

Residents of Watson Lake will be among the early group to be vaccinated, because the community is near a territorial border where there's a greater risk of people travelling in and out of Yukon. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

People in custody and those who work at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre are also in the high-risk category because of the jail's close living quarters, and because staff move in and out of the building and in and out of Whitehorse, said Boutette. 

"We can't be everywhere all at once, and part of that is because we need to have the trained immunizers available to safely deliver the vaccine," said Boutette. "And of course, those are in limited supply."

Making sure no dose is wasted

The Yukon government's plan is to vaccinate 75 per cent of the territory's adult population by the end of March. Vaccination requires two doses administered within 28 days, plus or minus a seven-day window, said Boutette. 

She said there will be an online booking system, as well as a phone line, that people can use to book appointments to get their shots. The booking system will also help health officials track who's had their first dose and when they're due for their second.

"We're very carefully matching appointments and time to make sure that not a single dose of this precious vaccine gets wasted."

In Whitehorse, the plan is to run a vaccine clinic six days a week for 12 hours each day.

So far, vaccine uptake has been greater than anticipated, said Boutette, "which is really exciting."

She also said that, provided Yukon has the doses, the territory has the capacity to immunize quickly.

"Our goal," said Boutette, "will be to be finished our campaign, dose one and dose two, likely faster than — I'm going to put it out there and say — maybe faster than anywhere else in Canada."

Written by Sidney Cohen based on an interview by Dave White

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