North

Opposition questions Yukon vaccine plan, after learning territory left out of 1st batch

Yukon opposition parties are questioning when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available in the territory, after learning Yukon will not be in line for the first batch of Pfizer vaccines announced by the prime minister Monday.

Territories will not see vaccines until 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the first 249,000 Pfizer vaccines will go to 14 distribution sites in urban areas. He said territorial residents would be among those to be inoculated with the first 3 million doses, which are expected in the beginning of 2021. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Yukon opposition parties are questioning when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available in the territory, after learning Yukon will not be in line for the first batch of Pfizer vaccines announced by the prime minister Monday.

That first batch of nearly 250,000 doses will be available before the end of the year, but none will go to the territories. 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.

That's despite a previous claim by Premier Sandy Silver that Yukon is "absolutely ready for the distribution." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said northerners would be included among the first 3 million doses, which are expected in the beginning of 2021. These vaccines will be combination of Pfizer and Moderna.

On Monday, Silver said the Yukon government's preference was a vaccine by Moderna, which in early trials has shown up to 94.5-per cent effectiveness. Like Pfizer, it requires two doses.

Last week, Silver said he thought the territories should get greater-than-per-capita access to the first round of vaccines. Despite that, the Liberals used their majority to quash a Yukon Party motion calling for exactly that.

In Question Period Monday, opposition parties renewed their calls for the Yukon Liberals to offer more details on when a vaccine will be available.

"Rather than being prioritised as the premier wanted, we have been bumped to the back of the line," said opposition leader Stacey Hassard.

Silver, as he's done previously, accused the Yukon Party of spreading misinformation.

"The Yukon Party is trying to make it seem, because of this very strategic initiative that's being done by the federal government, that somehow that means Yukoners are somehow put at the bottom of the list or didn't get what they wanted," Silver said. "This is absolutely unbelievable."

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver in the Legislative Assembly. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada)

The Yukon Liberals have also suggested that the territory is prepared to rollout a COVID-19 vaccine because this year's flu vaccine campaign inoculated more than 14,000 people. 

NDP Leader Kate White questioned whether the government has the capacity to handle a rollout that size.

"The recent flu vaccination campaign ran for nearly two months and reached roughly one in three Yukoners," White said. 

"So it's fair to assume the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine has the potential of being much greater. This could create logistical challenges, especially if the vaccine Yukon receives requires two doses," said White.

A spokesperson with the department of Health and Social Services said the government is planning a COVID19 mass vaccination clinic located in Whitehorse, with mobile teams fanning out to distribute the vaccine in rural communities. 

"Yukon is aligned with other jurisdictions on priority areas, including elderly populations, long-term care residents, front-line healthcare workers, and Indigenous, rural and remote communities," spokesperson Pat Living wrote in an email.  

"Once we have more details on vaccine availability, which vaccine we will receive and a national decision on how vaccines will be allocated to the provinces and territories, we will be updating the public."

14 distribution centres in large urban areas

On Monday, the federal government said the first Pfizer vaccines in 2020 will go to 14 distribution centres in large urban areas.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the territories will be included in the three million vaccine doses at the beginning of 2021, which will include a combination of Pfizer and Moderna.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander who's leading the vaccine distribution effort, said the territories indicated a preference for other vaccine candidates, "because of the complexity associated with distributing the Pfizer vaccine."

Trudeau said future vaccine rollouts will prioritize Indigenous people in Northern and remote areas.

"It is not easy to roll them out to more remote locations," said Trudeau on Monday.

"There will be more doses of other vaccines at later dates on a priority basis for Indigenous people, particularly those who are northern and remote."

now