Two of Canada’s northern territories have received their first shipments of a vaccine to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, officials confirmed Monday.
In a tweet, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in Yukon and the Northwest Territories, as shipments of the shot roll out across the country following last week’s approval by Health Canada.
Hajdu’s office told Global News that the two territories received 7,200 doses each on Monday.
Yukon Health Minister Pauline Frost said in a statement that the vaccine’s arrival marked a “turning point” in the fight against COVID-19.
Vaccinations will begin next week for priority residents, including long-term care home residents and staff, she added.
“A team of dedicated health professionals is undergoing training on how to safely store, handle and deliver the vaccine,” Frost said. “This training will ensure that they can safely administer the vaccine to eligible Yukoners.”
N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green confirmed the arrival in her territory on Twitter, and said priority residents will begin receiving the shot in mid-January. A roll-out plan for the vaccine will be released early that month, she added.
“Hiring, communications, and logistics are key activities that must be complete before immunization can begin to ensure a safe, equitable roll-out,” a health department spokesperson said in an email.
Both territories said they expect to receive enough doses of the Moderna vaccine between January and March to inoculate 75 per cent of all residents over the age of 18.
All three territories have opted to skip shipments of the first vaccine approved for use in Canada, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, because of its deep freeze storage requirements. Moderna’s vaccine can be stored in regular freezers, making them ideal for more remote communities.
The two vaccines require two doses per patient roughly four weeks apart in order to achieve immunity against the coronavirus.
It’s unclear when shipments of the vaccine will arrive in Nunavut. A spokesperson for the territory’s health department told Global News they have not received any doses yet and did not know when they would arrive, suggesting “extreme weather” over the past two days may have hampered deliveries.
Hajdu’s office said the rest of the more than 168,000 Moderna vaccine doses arriving in Canada will be delivered to provinces and territories “this week.”
Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq said earlier this month that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has told him the territory will get enough doses to vaccinate 75 per cent of the population in the first quarter of 2021.
Savikataaq said then his government is still working on its plan to roll out the vaccine once it arrives in the territory.
The first shipments of the Moderna vaccine arrived in Toronto on Christmas Eve a day after Health Canada issued its approval. The federal government has signed an agreement with the American pharmaceutical company to receive up to 40 million doses.
Thousands of Canadians in all 10 provinces have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer shot, which was approved for use earlier in December. Up to 76 million doses of that vaccine have been earmarked for delivery to Canada by late next year.
As of Monday, 554,780 cases and 15,121 deaths have been confirmed across the country since the start of the pandemic.
—With files from Global’s Abigail Bimman and the Canadian Press