Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine starting January, all willing adults vaccinated in 'early 2021'

Premier Sandy Silver said Thursday that all adult Yukoners who want the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will receive it for free, within the first three months of 2021.

Health-care workers, adults over 80 among priority groups for vaccine

Yukon will get 50,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of March, the territory's health minister said. That's enough to cover 25,000 people, or about 75 per cent of the adult population. (Reuters)

Officials in Yukon have announced that the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 will begin arriving in the territory in January.

Premier Sandy Silver said Thursday that all adults who want the vaccine will receive it for free, within the first three months of 2021.

Health Minister Pauline Frost said Yukon will get 50,400 doses by the end of March. That's enough to cover 25,000 people, she said, which is about 75 per cent of the adult population.

Frost said priority will be given to residents and staff of long-term care homes, health-care and personal support workers, adults over the age of 80, and Yukoners in rural or remote communities.

Unlike the provinces, Silver said the territory will receive higher than per-capita amounts of the two-dose vaccine.

"Today is an extremely important day for Yukoners," said Silver at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

"It's a day we have been planning for and waiting for since the spring."

Mass clinic will deliver vaccines

Yukon will use the mass flu clinic model to reach the majority of Yukoners. Frost said the clinic has capacity to deliver up to 1,000 vaccinations per day. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses, administered 28 to 35 days apart. 

The vaccine will be delivered to people in long-term care homes, as well as people who are homebound, said Frost.

The vaccine will not be approved for children and people who are pregnant.

"Once the vaccine arrives we will be ready to put needles in arms," said Frost.

'We will be ready to put needles in arms,' said Frost. (Yukon Government)

Hanley said Yukon, as well as the other territories, will be the only jurisdictions to initially receive enough vaccine to meet the expected need.

Hanley said it's a "realistic" estimate to believe 75 per cent of Yukon adults will want vaccination. He called this a "reasonable estimate" of what would provide herd immunity.

The amount of doses Yukon is getting "recognizes Yukon's significant Indigenous populations and remote communities," said a government statement.

"If more Yukoners choose to immunize, additional vaccine doses will be available in the second quarter of 2021."

'Safe and highly effective'

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said Yukon requested the Moderna vaccine, as the Pfizer vaccine is not feasible to distribute due to the logistical challenges of ultra-cold storage.

Hanley said Moderna is "next in line" for regulatory approval from Health Canada. He said they are working on the assumption the vaccine will be approved. 

It is "safe and highly effective," he said.

He said the timeline for receiving vaccines will be confirmed when Health Canada gives the final approval. 

The Moderna vaccines will require storage at –20 C. The federal government has ordered ultra cold freezers on Yukon's behalf, he said.

Mobile vaccine clinics will be available to reach people in remote communities throughout Yukon. Community health centres can also keep a small supply of vaccines for residents who cannot go to the mobile units.

"The journey toward population immunity begins today," Hanley said.

Keep following safety measures: Hanley

Hanley urged people to continue following COVID-19 safety measures in the meantime. 

COVID-19 will still be a risk throughout the holidays and early 2021, he said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Yukon and the other territories would not be part of the first batch of Pfizer vaccines coming in 2020.

That first batch of nearly 250,000 doses will be available before the end of the year, but will go to 14 distribution centres in urban areas. The North lacks the freezers required to store the Pfizer vaccine, which the company says requires a freezer at 80 C to 60 C or in a thermal container at 90 C to 60 C.

Trudeau said territorial residents would be among those to be inoculated with the first 3 million doses, which are expected in the beginning of 2021.