Yukon mobile COVID-19 vaccination teams hold dry-run in Whitehorse

·3 min read

Members of Yukon's two mobile COVID-19 vaccination teams held one last dry-run at a Whitehorse high school Friday before hitting the road.

Vanier Catholic Secondary School's gym was transformed into a pop-up mock vaccination clinic, similar to the ones that the teams — Balto and Togo, named after sled dogs — will set up in rural communities in the weeks to come as they deliver and administer the first doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Team Balto deployed to Watson Lake on Sunday. A mobile clinic was also set up in Dawson City on Jan. 6, but only to administer vaccines to long-term care residents and staff as well as high-risk health professionals.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

'Advance team' will precede Balto, Togo

John Coyne, who's in charge of the Yukon government's vaccine roll-out logistics team, told reporters at the mock clinic that officials needed a system that would allow for a high number of vaccines to be administered in the communities as early as possible, but without disrupting operations at local health centres.

"The best way to do that … was to bring the clinic to the community," he said.

"It's a multi-tiered, multifaceted approach to make sure it's efficient."

The arrival of mobile clinic teams in communities will be preceded by an advance team made up of three to five members whose jobs will be to "engage" community members, share information about Yukon's vaccine plan and help get people to the clinic when it arrives, Coyne said.

They'll also be encouraging community members to book an appointment either online or over the phone to be vaccinated as opposed to dropping in, something that Coyne said would be key for planning and ensuring resources are allocated properly.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

Teams underwent week of 'extensive' training

Teams Balto and Togo, meanwhile, are made up of Yukon EMS members who will be offering post-vaccine monitoring and care in case any adverse side effects occur, as well as greeters, cleaning personnel, security and "traffic-flow navigators."

They went through a week of training the week prior, which Yukon EMS paramedic supervisor and Team Balto member Robert Morris described as "extensive."

"We all come from different divisions and departments of the Yukon government — some of us are from Wildland Fire, we have some in Health and Social Services, accounting departments, Finance, and of course Emergency Medical Services as well, so taking that time to get to know our teams … figure out our feel, our dance, our rhythm, we've had the last three days to really solidify that," he said.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

The teams will be responsible for setting up, tearing down and moving the mobile clinics on their own. As part of that, they'll also be bringing all the equipment and furniture they need with them including shelves, tables, metal fold-up chairs (they're easier to sanitize than chairs with cloth surfaces) and even a sink for hand-washing.

Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Odessa Beatty told CBC in an email that there will be members on both teams who will be able to serve people in French, and Yukoners who aren't able to make it to the clinic in their communities can find out about other opportunities to get vaccinated by contacting their local health centres.

Morris said that while some logistical details are still being ironed out and that he expects some things to change as the teams get to work, he felt "very rewarded" to be part of Yukon's vaccination initiative.

"I really do hope that when we look back on this that we can say that this historic moment was not only a success to everybody who was a part of it but also to the communities we're reaching out to as well," he said.

"It's been a long time since COVID started and I really do feel like this is an integral part to an end of a long chapter with this pandemic."

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC