The Nunavik Regional Health Authority, the Inuit region of Arctic Quebec, is in talks with provincial authorities to exempt young people from the Quebec passport from COVID-19 vaccination until mid-fall.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was approved by Health Canada for young people in May, which straddled the Nunavik school year end of the same month, meaning it was not possible to climb a school-based campaign at the time, according to health authorities. . (Moderna was only licensed for 12-17 year olds last week, August 27.)
This, coupled with the logistical challenges of administering the vaccine in the 14 communities accessible by air in Nunavik and the limited health infrastructure in the region, mean that young people in Nunavik do not have the same access to the vaccine as elsewhere in the region. Province.
“Vaccine passports are very important and serve both purposes of reducing transmission in places like restaurants where masks are removed to eat, or large gatherings like sporting events where people are crowded and it’s very hard to know. after the fact who was in contact with whom, but the young people of Nunavik did not have the same chances of being vaccinated as in the South, ”said Dr. Yassen Tcholakov, clinical manager of infectious diseases at the public health department of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS), said during an interview.
“We are currently running our school vaccination campaign and want to give everyone the chance to have their first and second dose, which would take us to the end of October, starting in November. We are therefore asking for these small adjustments for Nunavik.
School vaccination in progress
The The NRBHSS launched its school vaccination campaign on August 23 and will run throughout the week of September 6. During this period, local nurses, assisted by the Red Cross, will visit schools in each community in Nunavik to offer vaccination to young people.
Vaccination coverage in Nunavik remains low. The most recent data released in early August showed that as of July 10, only 36% of the population over 12 had received two doses. On Friday, the province as a whole reported that 79% of the population had received two doses.
However, Tcholakov cautions against comparisons given the unique demographics of Nunavik, where about 30 percent of the population is under the age of 18.
“We are looking at the immunization coverage in Nunavik in a more detailed way and not just comparing the numbers with the numbers in the South because I think it is unfair for the situation in the North,” he said.
“There is a very different age structure in the population of Nunavik. Thus, until young people under the age of 18 could be vaccinated, it would be impossible for the vaccination rate in Nunavik to exceed 70%, even if every adult in the region chose to be vaccinated.
Delta variant issues
Cholakov says the school vaccination campaign is underway at a critical time amid growing concerns about the Delta variant. And that the younger bias of the Nunavik population could make it particularly vulnerable, with around 20 percent of the population under the age of 12, a group that is still not currently eligible for vaccination.
“Now that young people are getting vaccinated, it opens the door to more protection, but even if all eligible get it, we still wouldn’t be able to achieve vaccination levels that would protect against the Delta variant until. so that maybe we can immunize even the youngest. those, ” Cholakov said, referring to current estimates that between 80 and 95% of the population would need both vaccines to interrupt community transmission.
Nunavik has not experienced any community spread of COVID-19 since March 2020, and the few travel-related cases in the region since then have been quickly isolated and contained, said Tcholakov.
But health officials are watching what is happening in the South with growing concern.
“We are concerned that if the Delta variant arrives in Nunavik, it will not be easy to control,” he said, noting that planes from the south generally stop in several communities to load and unload people in. path. until their final destination.
Travelers to Nunavik must complete an authorization to access the territory of Nunavik before flying to the region. They are also required to submit a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure and undergo secondary screening on Day 5 after arrival. This has so far applied to travelers aged six and over, but from September 8, due to variant issues, this will also apply to children aged one and over.
“We continue to monitor the epidemiology in the South”, said Tcholakov. “We’re at a decent stage now, but we’re definitely heading towards previous waves and maybe even higher. We are proud of our decisions so far in Nunavik, but I think there is also an element of luck. We’ll see how long it lasts.
“The important message is that with our school campaign now and the vaccination teams in the communities, there will be many more opportunities to get vaccinated than usual, so this is a good thing to consider and remains the same. best way for an individual to protect themselves. “
Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn (at) cbc.ca
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