Health Canada greenlights ‘milestone’ Moderna vaccine for use in the North

First Moderna doses set to arrive in territories by Dec. 28

Health Canada has authorized American manufacturer Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for safe use in Canada.

Officials told reporters on Wednesday that the first doses are set to arrive in the territories by Monday. They expect 168,000 doses of a guaranteed 40-million order to land in Canada by the end of the month.

“The authorization of the Moderna vaccine is a big milestone for Canada today,” said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin. “Moderna will be the first COVID-19 vaccine to be delivered to Canada’s remote and isolated communities and to Canada’s North.”

The Moderna vaccine poses fewer logistical challenges than the previously approved Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage and whose rollout has already started.

It’s up to provinces and territories to decide how to distribute doses once they receive them.

The chief medical officer of health at Indigenous Services Canada stressed the need for provinces, territories and Indigenous leaders to collaborate on an allocation plan.

“It is imperative that First Nations, Inuit and Metis be partners with provinces and territories in the co-planning for the culturally safe and equitable vaccine access in both rural and urban areas,” said Dr. Tom Wong.

“We will continue to facilitate collaboration needed to address barriers to access and to support First Nations, Inuit and Metis to make informed decisions.”

Wong said he remains concerned about the rising numbers in some communities. A written update from chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam noted that the novel coronavirus is still spreading in higher-risk environments.

“Outbreaks continue to occur in high-risk populations and communities, including hospitals and long-term care homes, correctional facilities, congregate living settings, Indigenous communities, and more remote areas of the country,” said the release.

“The downstream impacts of weeks and months of elevated disease activity continues to be seen in still rising numbers of severe illness and death, significant disruptions to health services and ongoing challenges for areas not adequately equipped to manage complex medical emergencies.”

Wong said now is the time to “redouble” efforts to keep the virus out of Indigenous communities.

According to ISC, there are 3,005 active cases in First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities – another 69 people have died.

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Speaking outside his house in Ottawa following news of the approval, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a similar message, asking the public to buckle down.

“We’ve held on through what has been a very difficult year and we now see the end in sight with vaccines coming, vaccines being there for the most vulnerable and increasingly, over the coming months, for all Canadians,” said Trudeau.

“That means we’re almost there. But we’re not there yet. And if people don’t follow public health rules now we could be in for an even more difficult winter than we’re already going to have.”

Trudeau also announced $70 million for the Red Cross to support its ongoing relief efforts. He said military supports have been deployed to help the First Nations communities of Red Sucker Lake in Manitoba and Attawapiskat in northern Ontario.

The prime minister also said that Canada secured an additional 250,000 Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines. Between the Pfizer and Moderna doses, Canada expects to have 1.2 million doses delivered by the end of January.

Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer of Canada, said trilateral meetings are happening between Indigenous leaders, Ottawa and provinces and territories to discuss rollout efforts.

He said the Moderna vaccine is “much easier to handle” and offers more “flexibility” in terms of how it can be administered, which is why it’s headed to the territories as well more isolated regions.

Njoo said the government remains on track be able to inoculate the entire country’s population with the requisite two doses per person by September 2021.

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