Kusugak and Lightstone trade jabs over Iqaluit vaccinations
Iqalungmiut 45 years of age and over now getting called in for a shot
Welcome to Nunavut’s battle of the vaccine vials.
In a testy exchange Tuesday with Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone, Health Minister Lorne Kusugak managed to clarify who in Iqaluit is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination right now, when they’ll be able to get one, and how many people in Iqaluit have received a shot.
During question period in the legislature, Kusugak responded to a series of queries from Lightstone that criticized the Health Department’s communication efforts. The health minister struck back by saying health workers had administered at least 1,100 vaccinations in Iqaluit, as of Tuesday.
“It’s amazing how we have vaccinated over a thousand people in Iqaluit, and Mr. Lightstone didn’t even know there was a vaccination happening,” Kusugak said.
In his questions, Lightstone complained that the territorial government is now phoning people in Iqaluit who are 45 years of age and over, inviting them to come in to get vaccinated.
But that’s confusing, because the GN’s website states that only people over the age of 60 and frontline workers in Iqaluit are eligible for shots, Lightstone said.
“I myself, as well as my constituents, are very concerned over the lack of communication about the Government of Nunavut’s vaccination rollout plan,” Lightstone said.
Kusugak responded by saying health workers in Iqaluit are working their way downwards by age group in their distribution of the vaccine — by calling back those who have already called public health to say they want a shot.
“The members of this fine city have been calling our public health office and booking appointments to get callbacks,” he said.
He said health workers in Iqaluit started with those 60 and over, then 55 and over, and are now calling back those who are 45 and over.
After explaining that, Kusugak mocked Lightstone’s use of social media.
“I will assume that Mr. Lightstone will put it on his Facebook page before the day is over,” he said in an apparent reference to a controversy triggered when Ligthstone posted comments in early February on social media about the vaccine rollout in Iqaluit.
Kusugak also said in his responses that, because of Iqaluit’s large population, the vaccine must be rolled out differently in the capital city compared to other communities.
“We can’t do a mass vaccination with the whole population of Iqaluit. It would mean we would have to do 4,000 or 5,000 at the same time,” Kusugak said.
But he did say that some time before the end of March, the Health Department hopes to vaccinate everyone in Iqaluit who can’t get a shot now. But he could not give an exact date.
“It has always been the plan of government to include everybody in Iqaluit who wants to get vaccinated that is 18 and over to get vaccinated,” he said.
Tuesday’s question-period exchange was the latest round in a squabble between the two politicians that broke out online Feb. 5.
That was when Lightstone took to Twitter to allege Iqaluit will get left behind by the Government of Nunavut’s vaccination program.
He did that by sharing a screenshot of a GN email that said the government would do community-wide vaccination clinics in every community — except for Iqaluit.
In that Feb. 5 email, the GN said that, unlike smaller communities where all adults would be eligible for a jab, not everyone in more populous Iqaluit will be able to get one right away.
Instead, they’ll divvy up the vaccine in Iqaluit based on “vulnerability categories” and the number of available doses.
After Lightstone shared that information “with sadness,” Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell entered the fray.
Bell fired off an aggrieved letter of his own, saying the GN rollout policy for Iqaluit “is completely irresponsible of our government.”
But Bell settled down the next day, following a phone call with Kusugak, saying the tiff was “all a misunderstanding.”
That’s because Kusugak assured him everyone in Iqaluit would get a jab by the end of March.
As of Wednesday, 7,073 doses of the Moderna vaccine had been administered in Nunavut, but that figure is not broken down by community.