Vaccine hesitancy and roll out plans: N.W.T.'s top doctors answer your COVID-19 questions

·3 min read

The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in the N.W.T. is the light at the end of the tunnel, but the territory needs to keep driving toward it.

That's the message from its top doctors on the last day of 2020.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and the territory's medical director, Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, fielded questions from listeners on CBC's The Trailbreaker Thursday morning.

People wrote and called in with questions about the Moderna vaccine. On Monday, 7,200 doses arrived in the territory.

Elders and staff in long term care facilities in the N.W.T. will soon be able to receive the vaccine, and plans are underway to roll it out to other priority groups starting the week of Jan. 11.

How does Moderna work?

Moderna is a messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid) vaccine, a new type of vaccine that teaches your body to protect itself against COVID-19, Kandola explained.

It sends messages to your cells to teach them how to make proteins, which are like the ones found in the virus, she said. Once made, it tells your immune system how to make antibodies against COVID-19.

Antibodies gives you a head start fighting the infection if the COVID-19 virus ever tries to enter your body, Kandola said.

After the antibodies are made, the body can get rid of the messenger RNA protein naturally.

How safe is Moderna?

"There's no chance of catching COVID-19 from the vaccine because there's no virus in it," Kandola said, and "there's no chance of the mRNA touching or changing your DNA."

"We know that the type of reactions that you do get from the vaccine are similar to other vaccines," she said, which include headache, muscle and joint pain, sometimes a low grade fever and chills, but nothing that doesn't resolve within a few days.

The Moderna vaccine was approved by Health Canada on Dec. 23 "after a thorough, independent review of the evidence" on safety, efficacy and quality requirements, officials said in a release.

"We feel confident with the Health Canada regulatory process," Kandola said.

How will the vaccine roll out work?

The doctors could not provide specific dates, but Pegg explained some of the logistics that will go into rolling out the vaccine across the territory.

It will involve multiple visits into a community. The first will see a vaccination team meet with local health staff in the community and answer questions and plan logistics.

A second visit will then be for the administration of the first doses of vaccines to the highest priority individuals.

About a month later, a third visit will then provide the second dose to those who were vaccinated in the first round and also to provide the first dose to the next round of priority individuals.

"And it will roll out like that until we've been able to vaccinate everyone in a place who wants to be vaccinated," Pegg said.

"It also depends a lot on geography and how easy it is to get there. But you can see how this is a big challenge."

Will self-isolation still be required if I get the vaccine and travelled?

"We will not be discontinuing forced isolation in the near future," Kandola said.

Herd immunity requires upwards of 70 per cent of the population to be immunized, Kandola said.

She said provinces will not be able to vaccinate enough of their populations to achieve herd immunity in the first quarter.

"As more people across Canada are vaccinated, then that can be re-evaluated," Pegg said.

How are you addressing vaccine hesitancy?

"That has been a huge part of the of the work that the vaccine teams have been doing," Pegg said.

That involves making sure staff are trained to answer questions in the clearest way possible.

"We have been working with communities to make sure that vaccination information is available in traditional languages, to engage with individual community groups, to see what is driving vaccine hesitancy."

Missed the call in show? Watch it here: