NWT youth excited for post-vaccine future

Pierre Franki Mantla, 12, put his fears aside to protect himself and the community from COVID-19. ( Mariah Caruso/CKLB)

Last week kicked off the first-time youth aged 12 to 17 had the opportunity to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Canada.

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer, announced that the NWT is the first jurisdiction in the country to begin vaccinating youth –A sign of hope for many NWT families.

On May 11, Behchokǫ̀ held the first youth vaccine clinic outside of Yellowknife.

Gilbert Franki Mantla, 17, and his brother Pierre, 12, went to the clinic together.

At first, the boys were scared of getting the shot but their mother assured them of the benefits.

The boys say the pandemic has been a weird time for them, not being able to hang out with friends.

Especially with the transition to online learning, again, since the recent school closures in Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilǫ and Behchokǫ̀.

Although the boys support getting the vaccine, they’re now worried about their peers.

“They’re not gonna do it,” Gilbert says, “They’re scared.”

The boys soon realized that they’re not only protecting themselves but the larger community.

Unlike many vaccines, messenger RNA shots like – Pfizer and Moderna – don’t introduce a weakened or dead virus into the body. Instead, they train our immune systems to make a protein that triggers a response, building antibodies in the process to protect the recipient from getting the actual virus.

Specifically for the COVID-19 vaccines, they introduce a “spike protein” that is found on the outside of the virus. So if the virus ever does enter our bodies, our immune system would recognize that protein and respond, lowering the risk of us getting sick.

Vaccine hesitancy is a huge concern for NWT residents and officials.

Nurses at the clinic say they’ve noticed a big difference in the level of questions and concerns coming from children in the communities compared to the city.

A total of 90 doses of the vaccine were administered.

There are currently a total of 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Yellowknife and six probable cases.

Yellowknife youth

Andrea Geraghty was among the first Yellowknife youth to receive the vaccine.

Geraghty is a 16-year-old student at École Allain St-Cyr and is considered high risk due to a lung disease.

“I’ve been waiting for this forever,” she says, “to get a chance to just feel safer.”

Knowing her condition, she booked her vaccine right away.

Since the pandemic, Geraghty has been laid off from her part-time job at the school working with young children, something she really enjoyed.

“It has played a really big toll on my mental health,” she admits.

Geraghty says she misses being around people the most and advises everyone young and old to get their vaccine so that one day “we can get back to something normal, maybe have a normal summer?.”

“I think my age group is so excited to be able to make a change because we’ve been the people that have not been able to do much to keep everybody else in our community safe,” she explains.

Ashley Geraghty is Andrea’s father, and he couldn’t be more relieved knowing his daughter has received her first shot.

“For a while, we were really concerned, because there were no vaccines available for youth.”

Since the outbreak was announced at N.J. Macpherson School, Ashley says, “we were terrified, we actually were kind of pushing that she stays home and isolated in her bedroom.”

The pandemic has been difficult for the Geraghty family “you have no social life, and you don’t get to see your friends, can’t even have a campfire with them. It’s tough.”

Riley Oldford, first NWT youth to receive the vaccine

Oldford is 16-years old and has spent the last 14 months isolating.

Oldford is also considered high-risk – due to his cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease.

He says it’s been over a year since he’s been around people, suffering some of the same struggles as Geraghty.

Some of Oldfords medical appointments have been postponed as well, leaving him without leg braces. This experience was particularly difficult for him as Oldford had to transition to a wheelchair.

Sharon Oldford is Riley’s mother.

Riley Oldford, first NWT youth to receive the Pfizer vaccine. (photo courtesy of the GNWT)

“We’ve been super cautious,” she says.

Sharon says the situation has been so stressful they’ve stopped allowing people in the home, altogether, even take-out orders.

“Isolation is just a part of [pandemic] life.”

She says they’ve been waiting for Riley to be vaccinated “so he can get the rest of his appointments done and he can get his adjustments [to his leg braces].”

Moreover, the Oldford family is excited to ease up on some of these family-imposed restrictions so Riley can be a kid again.

Oldford is looking forward to hanging out with his friends again.

A full list of vaccine clinic updates is available here.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. Mariah is excited to begin her journey and career in Yellowknife, NWT, and get involved with the community. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at mariah.caruso@cklbradio.com