The Nunavut government expects to have up to 6,000 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine in hand by the end of December, Premier Joe Savikataaq said Wednesday.
The Moderna vaccine — approved by Health Canada earlier on Wednesday — is considered best for the northern territories, because the doses are more easily shipped and stored than the Pfizer vaccine that is already being administered in urban centres.
"Once the vaccine is here and administered, hopefully it's the start of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully it will start us getting our life back to normalcy," Savikataaq told CBC News on Wednesday.
"We're excited about starting it and we expect that sometime before the end of this month that we will get the Moderna vaccine in Nunavut and once it's in we will start rolling out the vaccine plan," he said.
Meanwhile, the territory announced two new active cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, for a total of eight active cases. One of those cases is in Arviat and the other is in Whale Cove, where all previous cases were recovered.
Nunavut's active case count has been steadily dropping since a territory-wide lockdown ended on Dec. 2. Nunavut has seen 262 cases of COVID-19 in total.
"This new case in Whale Cove demonstrates how quickly this virus can reemerge in a community and how important it is for us to remain vigilant," Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, said in a news release on Wednesday.
"It's up to each of us to limit the spread and keep our communities and one another healthy over the holidays."
Starting Christmas Eve, only essential services will remain open in Whale Cove and grocery stores will have reduced hours. Masks are mandatory in public areas and travel in and out of the community is restricted. Indoor gatherings are limited to five people plus members of a household and outdoor gatherings can only be five people.
Vaccinations should start in first weeks of January
Plans for vaccination programs in Nunavut's 25 fly-in communities are still being finalized. But Premier Savikataaq said the holiday season won't slow the planning down.
"Our goal is to, once we have the vaccine in hand, is to get it out to Nunavummiut. It doesn't do any good sitting stored in a facility. We need it in Nunavummiut, in their bodies, so they can start the process of fighting COVID-19," Savikataaq said.
"It's been tested, it's safe, and when it's my turn I will be taking the vaccine," he said.
The vaccine is given out in two doses. Territorial health officials say they won't be holding initial doses back to use as a second round for the first people vaccinated. The government is still waiting for confirmation as to when a second shipment of doses will arrive in the new year.
"We will be able to start vaccinating by either the first or the second week of January. We're fairly confident with the Moderna that we'll be able to meet that goal," Nunavut Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson told CBC News on Wednesday morning, just prior to the federal announcement.
"It is quite clear that this vaccine is safer than getting COVID-19. I would advise people to go ahead and get the vaccine as soon as they are eligible." - Nunavut Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson
Canada is expecting 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to arrive by the end of this year, for shipment across the country, the federal government said. Enough doses are to be secured to vaccinate 20 million Canadians by the end of 2021.
"This authorization is a critical step in ensuring a COVID-19 vaccine is available to all Canadians in all parts of the country," Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada's chief medical advisor, said at a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.
Nunavut has been promised enough doses to inoculate up to 75 per cent of the adult population in the first three months of 2021. The territory has said it will first vaccinate elders, longterm care workers and frontline health care staff.
"If we get enough vaccines, and get regular resupply, we'll be able to start with community clinics where we are offering the vaccine to most people who are over 18," Patterson said. "But it depends on the supply chain for the vaccine itself.
"It is quite clear that this vaccine is safer than getting COVID-19. I would advise people to go ahead and get the vaccine as soon as they are eligible."
The only reason not to take the vaccine would be if someone had an allergy to an ingredient used in it, he said, adding that a list of those ingredients will be available to vaccination teams.
ITK president urges vaccination for Inuit
Speaking hours after the vaccine approval was announced on Wednesday, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) President Natan Obed said it's vital that remote Indigenous communities like those in the North are prioritized.
"We just don't have the capacity to respond if COVID-19 presents itself in remote, northern isolated communities. We also have huge challenges with tuberculosis already, and so we have risk factors already in play for respiratory illness."
He said overcrowded housing, poverty and food insecurity also increase risk.
Obed called the approval "excellent news," and said the national Inuit organization will do what it can to encourage vaccination.
"We as Inuit organizations, and as ITK, will provide a communications in Inuktitut. We will do all we can to inform our populations about whatever information we have from the federal government," Obed said.
"We're going to do our best to work with the federal government and provinces and territories to ensure that Inuit communities are prepared and understand the vaccine and the purpose behind it.
"I know that for me, when it is my turn, I will be rolling up my sleeve."