Iqaluit MLA calls vaccine rollout a 'communications fiasco'

·3 min read
Adam Arreak Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit Manirajak, says he has struggled to get specific information from the territorial government about the vaccine rollout in Iqaluit.
Adam Arreak Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit Manirajak, says he has struggled to get specific information from the territorial government about the vaccine rollout in Iqaluit.

(Beth Brown/CBC)

The government of Nunavut says the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shortage will not impact its rollout plans.

The territory is still on track to vaccinate 75 per cent of eligible adults in Nunavut by the end of March, or "very shortly after," according to a spokesperson from the minister of health's office.

On Jan. 29, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada will receive 50,000 fewer doses of the Moderna vaccine in February because of manufacturing issues at Moderna's plants in Belgium.

The Moderna vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine being administered across the North.

The governments for the Northwest Territories and Yukon announced they have received less shipments of the vaccine in February because of the shortage.

However, the government of Nunavut said in an email to CBC that the shortage will not impact the rollout plan and they are receiving shipments of the vaccine every three weeks.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said at a press conference in January that the territory should receive 18,000 doses of the vaccine by mid-February.

According to a government of Canada website, the territory currently has 12,000 doses of the vaccine.

CBC made several requests for an interview with Patterson and Health Minister Lorne Kusugak, but was told no one is available.

Transparency issue

The MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, Adam Arreak Lightstone, says there is a transparency issue when it comes to the vaccine plans.

"I haven't been very pleased with the way our own department of health and government of Nunavut conveyed their own plans with the public and specifically with Iqalummuit," said Arreak Lightstone.

On Feb. 4, Kusugak sent an email to Iqaluit's four MLAs to inform them that Iqaluit will not have a general vaccine clinic, but will be vaccinated based on priority groups, which is consistent with what the government and the chief public health officer have said about the vaccine rollout in Iqaluit.

The email says 970 people in Iqaluit have been vaccinated as of Feb. 2. Currently, only people at risk, healthcare workers and those 60 and older are eligible.

Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer/The Associated Press
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer/The Associated Press

Kusugak says the decision to inoculate people in priority groups as opposed to everyone, as is the case in all other communities in the territory, is because Iqaluit has the "highest probability of managing an outbreak compared to any other community in Nunavut."

Iqaluit also has the only hospital in the territory and is on a direct flight path to Ottawa.

"We do have the hospital here, it does not necessarily mean that we're in a better position," said Arreak Lightstone.

Patterson has said that anyone who is sick enough to need to be hospitalized for COVID-19 will need to be medivaced south.

Arrak Lightstone says the flight path to Ottawa cuts down trip time, but doesn't see why this would benefit.

Arreak Lightstone says he's not looking for Iqaluit to have "preferential treatment."

"But I do believe that we should receive equal priority and status in any matter," he said.

No answer

On Jan. 19 and 21, Arreak Lightstone wrote an email to the premier's office asking when the general public in Iqaluit will be vaccinated. He says he hasn't heard back.

On Feb. 8, Arreak Lightstone sent a letter to Kusugak asking for specific details about the vaccine, such as community dose allocations, the government's capacity to secure vaccine doses independently, and revised timetables of vaccine shipments from the federal government.

"I guess it's a bit of a communications fiasco," said Arreak Lightstone.

"I really hope that going forward, the government will try its best to improve its methods of relaying information to the public and in a timely and efficient manner."