Indigenous people will be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations after the initial rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is provided to long-term care home residents and staff and medical professionals.
“(For) prioritization there are some guidelines at the national level — provinces and territories will further refine that,” says federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu, Thunder Bay-Superior North MP. “Essentially it will be people in long-term care homes, it will be people who work in long-term care homes and medical professionals. The idea being that first of all we want to save lives and then we obviously want to stop the spread and then as we start to get more options Indigenous people are prioritized, so are other vulnerable populations and those kinds of folks that are essential workers.”
Hajdu says it is important to vaccinate staff in hospitals and long-term care homes in order to keep them functioning.
“If we see spread in a hospital setting or even in a long-term care setting and you have a bunch of employees that get sick, then it stops the functioning of these critical centres that we need,” Hajdu says.
Hajdu says the initial rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be in 14 sites across the country but that will be expanded over time to about 200 sites.
“For other vaccines, we don’t need the same level of cold storage so those will be more easily transported into Indigenous communities, for example thinking about Moderna, which is kind of next in line for a decision from the regulators,” Hajdu says. “This (Moderna) vaccine is also a newer technology but it doesn’t need to be held at that same really cold temperature, so it is more stable and can be moved around.”
Hajdu says there are two more vaccines under review, from Janssen and AstraZeneca, that are more traditional vaccines that don’t need cold storage in the same way.
“Those ones will be able to be distributed in much easier ways,” Hajdu says, “(such as) for example, flu vaccines at pharmacists.”
Hajdu says vaccine recipients will be asked to report any side effects from the vaccines.
“We want to even know about the mild ones, a sore arm, fatigue, some of the things you might expect after getting the flu shot,” Hajdu says. “We’ve got a very sophisticated surveillance system that already exists for vaccinations all across the country to monitor for any kinds of other adverse outcomes that are serious. The health care professionals that are working on the ground delivering these vaccines have all the information — that’s part of the review process, making sure we have all the information necessary so people are well supported when they are administering the vaccines and they know how to assess people and watch for those kind of outcomes.”
Hajdu says she has already spoken with Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler about the vaccine.
“There are always concerns about making sure Indigenous people have access, for one,” Hajdu says. “But obviously the other concern will be just making sure there are enough staff people to be able to administer the vaccine.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada announced that they are implementing a pan-Canadian no-fault vaccine injury support program for all Health Canada approved vaccines, in collaboration with provinces and territories.
“Our publicly funded health care system is a source of pride, and this program will make it even better,” Hajdu says. “Canadians can have confidence in the rigour of the vaccine approvals system, however, in the rare event that a person experiences an adverse reaction, this program will help ensure they get the support they need. I will work with my provincial and territorial counterparts to set this program in place quickly.”