The much talked about 75 per cent vaccination target for herd immunity against the COVID-19 virus may be changing.
During oral questions in the Legislative Assembly yesterday Julie Green, minister of Health and Social Services, faced questions from three MLAs about how the government will be easing health restrictions in the territory and around travel.
Green said that the guide for easing health restrictions, the Emerging Wisely document, would be updated by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola in April.
But she also said the criteria for reaching herd immunity is now in question.
“The rate we’ve all been talking about is the 75 per cent rate. I think that rate is now in question to some extent,” Green said.
The minister listed a number of variables that could affect vaccination efficacy including whether the vaccine will prevent transmission of the virus, vaccination rates, how it will protect against variants – which she said is now in Yukon and Fort Chipewyan – and if children will need vaccination.
“The whole business of how much is enough is up for debate at this point,” Green said.
Green said a high vaccination rate would mostly have implications on territorial restrictions, which would ease first. She said that includes greater capacity at home, for community gatherings and for businesses.
This news comes as Green said the NWT has reached 58 per cent of vaccine uptake for the first dose and 36 per cent for vaccine uptake for dose two.
She also said the population group lagging most for getting the jab is those aged 18 to 34, “well below 50 per cent uptake in most communities.”
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby asked the health minister if businesses can expect a detailed plan with dates for which restrictions can ease through this year.
Green replied that the situation with the pandemic “is just too fluid” to provide that kind of detailed plan and expect it to be delivered exactly as written.
“We appreciate the need for that kind of information and we are more than happy to work with partners in business, chamber of commerce, the mines and other business entities to make sure they have all the information we have,” Green said.
Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn also asked for possible dates on easing restrictions, but Green said that would be very difficult to do.
Don’t call it a lock down
Nokleby also asked about how the territory has increased its health-care capacity and what was being done to “address the situation” because “if you’ve done nothing to address the situation, we will be in this situation for perpetuity.”
Green argued that the territory is not “locked down” and has improved health care by improving testing capacity, stockpiled PPE and set up wastewater testing in multiple communities, among other things.
“The borders are open and hundreds of people cross our borders every day and we have approved something like 35,000 isolation plans,” Green said.
“People are not locked in or out of the NWT.”
Nokleby returned barbs by saying that the people able to leave the territory are the few who can afford to do so and that “comes from a place of privilege.”