Nunatsiavut gears up for arrival of Moderna vaccine

·4 min read

The Nunatsiavut Department of Health and Social Development (DHSD) announced Wednesday it’s implementing a plan for all eligible residents in each of the five Labrador Inuit communities to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine starting the week of Jan. 11.

The first shipment of the vaccine is expected to arrive in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the coming days. It has to remain frozen — though not super cold like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — so it will require the use of specialized containers called Credo Cubes.

The Labrador-Grenfell Regional Health Authority is awaiting arrival of those containers.

DHSD is responsible for delivering the vaccine to all residents in Nunatsiavut, although provincial Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said the Labrador health authority is ready to lend assistance if required.

Under manufacturer guidelines, the vaccine won’t be given to individuals under the age of 18, or to those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have allergies. The government says it strongly urges all eligible residents to receive it.

“We continue to work with all relevant authorities to ensure we are able to deliver the vaccine as quickly as possible in a safe and efficient manner,” Nunatsiavut Health Minister Gerald Asivak stated in a news release. “Although there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel, we still have a way to go before the threat of COVID-19 passes.”

The vaccines will be administered in one community at a time.

“That will be done community by community simply because of the geography and the fact you have to fly people in to do it,” Haggie explained in an interview Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Haggie said Newfoundland and Labrador has had to lower its expectations on Pfizer shipments up to the end of January.

“It seems we may get slightly fewer in that period than we had anticipated,” he said.

He said the province may end up two or three trays short of what was promised. Each tray holds just under 1,000 doses.

However, Haggie said he’s hopeful the AstraZenaca/Oxford vaccine may come on stream next month if Health Canada approves it. The United Kingdom has already given the more traditional one-shot vaccine a green light.

Of the vaccines that have already arrived, Haggie said there’s been no sign of a sluggish delivery that has so far plagued other jurisdictions in Canada.

“We were doing two and three hundred people a day at the peak,” he said.

Of all the high-risk health workers in the Avalon region that have been identified as candidates to receive the vaccine, only 165 remain outstanding.

“The reason for the 165 is they were not in the building and were not coming in until starting next week," Haggie said. “Essentially, there was a pause of the Christmas weekend simply because there was no one to give vaccine to.”

He said more accurate vaccine statistics will be provided next week.

Meanwhile, the minister said the province’s vaccination team is working on getting ultra deep freezers in place so subsequent Pfizer deliveries can be flown to other centres in the province.

“Supply chain has been our issue and will be our issue,” Haggie said. “We’re hamstrung with Pfizer because it has to be distributed from where it lands.”

He said there will be one freezer up and working in Gander this week, and one may have already arrived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. That one will take a few days to be commissioned and tested.

Another freezer will be set up in Corner Brook next month.

“By mid-January, we’ll have another two from a province purchase as well. One of those, I suspect, will go to Lab West, and I’m not quite sure where the final one will go yet,” he said.

The Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture has also donated a freezer, but that one needs a bit of work.

Haggie said all of the vaccines on the radar so far have similar success rates, and he doesn’t favour one over the other.

“At the end of the day, as long as they’re all equally effective and equally safe, it really doesn’t matter which vaccine you get.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram