Anne Thrasher eagerly rolled up her sleeve on Monday and became the first Elder in the small arctic coastal Inuvialuit community of Paulatuk, Northwest Territories to receive Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“This is my way of protecting myself, others, the ones I love and the whole community,” Thrasher said.
At age 66, she was eligible for the dose early on in the N.W.T. vaccination rollout strategy.
“I know that this virus has been aimed at one particular generation in the world and those are the Elders and seniors,” she said. “I grew up listening to legends and stories on how to take care of your Elders. I hope that they all get the needle. They need the right information, right interpreters and encouragement to get the vaccine.”
This month 19 communities across the N.W.T. will offer vaccines to eligible adults.
Thrasher said the work nurses and local healthcare staff undertook ahead of vaccination day was crucial in getting information on the Moderna vaccine to her community.
She told APTN News healthcare workers visited with primary Elders, those who may have needed more information about the vaccine in their own language and those with mobility issues who may have been housebound.
“I met an Elder shortly after I had my needle. We have a huge glass patrician in the gymnasium and an Elder was watching,” Thraser said. “When my 15 minutes were up, I went and greeted her and she said ‘I am terrified, I never slept for a whole week thinking should I take this vaccine that will save me or that will end my life, I’m hearing so much?’
“Those are the Elders that need to be reached out to.”
Julie Green, the minister of Health in the N.W.T., told reporters at a press conference on Jan. 8, the government is combatting vaccine hesitancy with regular meetings held between Indigenous and territorial governments.
“We will provide people with as much information as possible so they can provide informed consent for the vaccination,” Green said. “That’s one of the reasons why the Moderna vaccine sheet has been translated into the official languages and why interpreters will be part of the roll out in the communities.”
The territorial government has announced plans to vaccine 75 per cent of eligible adults by the end of March, but to do so takes a fair deal of logistically planning.
The N.W.T. COVID-19 response team describes the Moderna vaccine as “something more delicate than an egg.”
Scott Robertson, a nurse practitioner and executive co-lead with the NWT COVID-19 Response Team, said along with careful handling of the fragile vaccine, it must also be kept at certain temperatures according to the timeframe it will be administered.
“As soon as we take a vile out of the cooler we can’t move it again. So we keep everything in the cooler as long as possible and we are timing exactly and calculating our doses to ensure we don’t have too much left over and none is going to waste,” Robertson said.
The dispatch centre for the response team is located in Yellowknife’s Centre Square Mall and had to mobilize quickly, only having received the Moderna’s instruction manual for how to administer the vaccine in the last few day of December.
Robertson said the work has been “non-stop” and entire training programs assembled in a matter of days.
There’s also been a lack of equipment, the heavy-duty coolers are something of a treasure chest and the N.W.T. has only been able to secure five to transport the vaccine far distances.
“There’s a global shortage of syringes and needles. The N.W.T. has acquired some from Canada’s national stockpile, and that every dose of the vaccine has its own syringe and needle.
The logistics team must manage these issues and track all movement of the vaccine, a complex process but necessary in order to get vaccines into the arms of northerners.