THUNDER BAY – Ornge aircraft will begin taking off for remote First Nations on Monday, delivering thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses to youth aged 12 to 17 across more than two dozen communities.
The initiative, dubbed Operation Remote Immunity 2.0, is set to last through the end of July, said Wade Durham, Ornge’s chief operating officer of medical operations.
It will follow a similar format to the first Operation Remote Immunity, which delivered over 25,000 doses across 32 First Nations between February and April, but on a smaller scale.
Wade anticipated about 5,000 youth will be vaccinated in those communities in the coming months.
Ornge will transport teams consisting of pilots, paramedics, nurses, and physicians from a hub in Thunder Bay to 25 of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario.
The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority will handle operations in seven other First Nations in the northeast.
The teams will spend two to four days in each community, returning each evening to Thunder Bay.
The initiative will deliver both first and second doses by the end of July, Durham anticipates.
The clinics will also offer the chance to those over the age of 17 who did not get vaccinated during the first phase.
“There is a range of uptake between the communities – some were near 100 per cent… and some were lower, in the 40 to 50 per cent range,” said Durham. “We hope with this second opportunity, those that missed it or maybe have had a change of feeling in terms of vaccination will come out.”
To encourage that, the teams are working with local leadership and health authorities to offer information on vaccine benefits and risks, and will bring pediatricians along.
The collaboration with local leadership is key to the success of the project, Durham said.
“We hope the uptake will be good,” he said. “Our [goal is to] provide the opportunity for the vaccine to all those who want it.”
Those 12 to 17 do not require parental consent to be vaccinated, Durham noted.