Nunavik’s vaccination campaign to begin next week
Region plans to immunize 13,000 residents by mid-March, public health director says
A group of Nunavik elders and health-care workers is expected to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting next week, as the region launches its vaccination campaign with the goal of immunizing its entire population by mid-March.
The first batch of 1,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine will be shipped to Nunavik by the end of the week, said Dr. Marie Rochette, director of public health at the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.
The vaccines will arrive in Kuujjuaq and then be sent to the region’s 13 other communities by two chartered flights.
“We want to ship them to each community and we hope we can ship them the same day,” Rochette said. “For now, we’d like communities to start to give the vaccines next week.”
The Moderna vaccine must be stored at a temperature between -15 C and -25 C. Rochette said the health board plans to install freezers at its hospitals in Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq, but for now, community health centres have refrigerators that can store small amounts of the vaccine.
Nunavik is following provincial guidelines to prioritize groups for vaccination, Rochette said. The first to be inoculated will be residents of long-term care facilities or elders’ homes and workers in those residences, as well as health-care or social services workers who have close contact with anyone at least 70 years of age.
Community health centres will manage their own lists of who is prioritized for the vaccine locally, and staff in those centres can use their discretion. Each vial of Moderna’s vaccine contains 10 doses that must be used in the same sitting, Rochette said, so health-care staff can assess how to distribute any remaining doses.
Nunavik expects the next batch of vaccines to arrive in the beginning of February. The region’s second priority group to receive the vaccine includes all health-care workers and first responders, adults with chronic diseases and any Nunavimmiut who are older than 55 years.
By mid-February, Rochette said she hopes the health board will be ready to deploy teams to host vaccination clinics in each of Nunavik’s 14 communities, to vaccinate the general population.
“We believe it will take one month to cover the 14 communities,” she said.
“We’d like by mid-March to be able to offer the immunization to the whole adult population of Nunavik. Our goal is to immunize the entire population.”
Nunavik has approximately 13,000 residents, according to 2016 Census figures.
That won’t be entirely possible right away, Rochette acknowledged; Quebec isn’t currently vaccinating pregnant women or severely immune-compromised people.
There will also be Nunavimmiut who decline to be vaccinated, for personal reasons.
“What we’re seeing in other regions and down south is that some people are questioning the safety or the efficacy of the vaccines, because it’s so new,” Rochette said.
“So I think it’s something we’ll have to address for Nunavik’s population. There is still a lot of misinformation.”
Community leaders have requested the vaccine, she noted, and the board of directors overseeing the region’s health board approved its vaccination plans Jan. 12.
The health board said its chairperson, Elisapi Uitangak, was unavailable to comment on the vaccination campaign this week.
In the federal government’s Jan. 13 update on its response to COVID-19 in Indigenous communities, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told reporters that the government respects local choices about how to vaccinate local populations.
“What we’ve been told by Inuit leadership is that they want as much information as possible. They want to participate in the vaccine rollout,” Miller said during a news conference in Ottawa.
“They want the critical information translated into Inuktitut and in particular their local dialect so that they can have full and informed consent as they take that choice to get the vaccine.”
—with files from Corey Larocque