Canada’s territories will have enough doses to fully vaccinate 75 per cent of their adult populations against the coronavirus “by the end of March,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said on Wednesday.
Chief Medical Officer of Public Health Dr. Tom Wong added that this figure refers to both doses, meaning that by the end of the first quarter, the territories will have enough doses to provide both injections of the two-shot regime.
The comments come on the heels of an announcement from the government that Canada has secured an additional 20 million Pfizer vaccine doses, bringing Canada’s total vaccine supply for 2021 to 80 million doses – which is more doses than would be required to vaccinate every single person living in Canada.
But not all those doses have the same storage requirements. Pfizer’s vaccine requires ultra-cold storage of -70 C, which makes it difficult to transport and hold in Canada’s northern and remote regions. The Moderna vaccine, however, is much easier to ship and store in the north. While it also requires cold storage, the temperature needed to avoid spoilage is just -15 to -25 C.
The government has announced its intention to earmark additional Moderna doses for the northern regions due to this logistical consideration. Now, with enough doses set to be delivered to the territories to inoculate 75 per cent of the adult population by March, the rollout is set to swing into high gear.
“The logistics of a COVID-19 vaccine rollout are a complex undertaking and require co-ordination amongst partners and provinces and territories,” said Miller.
“Efficient and effective rollout requires co-planning and is dependent on full collaboration and partnership.”
In light of the logistical challenges, the federal government announced on Wednesday its intention to provide additional funds to grease the wheels of the rollout. Miller said the government has earmarked $1.2 billion in funding from the fall economic statement for Indigenous communities responding to COVID-19.
He said this means over $4.2 billion has been announced since March to support Indigenous communities in the fight against the pandemic.
However, there are additional challenges involved in the Indigenous response to COVID-19 that cannot necessarily be addressed with funding.
History has left behind a legacy of shattered trust between Indigenous communities and Canada’s health-care systems. In the 1940s, the government conducted a series of unethical experiments on Indigenous children without consent – depriving malnourished kids of proper nutrition to see what the impacts would be.
This kind of racism isn’t only found in history. In September, an Atikamekw woman recorded her final moments at a hospital in Quebec, where she experienced what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “the worst form of racism.”
Over the course of over seven minutes, 37-year-old Joyce Echaquan can be heard calling for help from nurses who, instead of comforting her, denigrated her with racist insults. She died shortly afterwards.
Miller acknowledged the impact these racist incidents can have on trust between Indigenous peoples and health-care providers.
“We recognize that First Nations, Inuit and Metis have historically endured and continue to endure systemic racism and discrimination when seeking health care, resulting in mistrust in Canada’s health-care system,” Miller said.
“We also know that Indigenous peoples, regardless of where they live, experience a high burden of illness and are at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications.”
However, as the vaccine has started to be rolled out in Indigenous communities, Miller said the response has been overwhelmingly positive and receptive. Elders are key in forging trust, he added, as younger adults who see their grandparents safely receive the vaccine are more likely to take it themselves.
Meanwhile, as thousands of doses have been delivered to the territories, they’ve only just begun going into arms.
Of the 20,400 Moderna vaccine doses that have been delivered to the territories, just over 1,000 have been administered, according to Canada’s unofficial vaccine tracker. The territories are home to over 126,000 people.
“I want things happening in real time, and it can’t happen fast enough,” said Miller.
“They are ramping up as quickly as they can, and we’re there to support them.”
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