Ontario Completes All First Dose COVID-19 Vaccinations in Northern Remote Indigenous Communities

Administration of second dose underway and to be completed by April

TORONTO — Ontario has reached a key milestone in protecting remote and isolated Indigenous communities against COVID-19, having visited all 31 fly-in northern communities and Moosonee to offer first doses of the vaccine as part of Operation Remote Immunity.

“A key part of our COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan is to ensure Ontario’s Indigenous communities and residents are protected,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “This important milestone could not have been achieved without the tremendous efforts of Indigenous leadership, community members, Ornge, and frontline health care workers coming together to stop the spread of COVID-19 in these at-risk communities.”

Operation Remote Immunity was launched to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents of First Nations elder care homes and Indigenous communities in remote areas, who face a disproportionate risk from the virus. Operation Remote Immunity is supported by Ornge, an air ambulance and critical care transport service under the leadership of COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force Member Dr. Homer Tien. The plan was co-developed in partnership with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) to ensure engagement of Indigenous leadership in how vaccines are offered to their communities.

“This was a true team effort. We sincerely appreciate the tremendous support we are receiving from the government, community leadership and our partners,” said Dr. Homer Tien, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ornge. “This milestone was only achieved because of the communities themselves. The community coordinators helped overcome vaccine hesitancy, rostered the community members and organized vaccine clinics. We are honoured that we could help them protect their own communities.”

The 31 fly-in communities and Moosonee involved in Operation Remote Immunity were selected because almost all of them are accessible only by air, and all are remote, having a higher risk of serious illness and challenging access to health care services. These communities have few health care facilities and resources to manage the spread of COVID-19, making the risk of the virus being brought into these communities potentially devastating.

“The delivery and administration of vaccines to these communities is an outstanding example of Ontario and Indigenous leadership working together to fight this pandemic on the ground where Indigenous populations are most at risk,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs. “This would not have been possible without the support of leaders and residents in these fly-in communities in promoting vaccination and helping to set up vaccinations sites, ensuring the most at-risk community members are protected.”

“This is a significant milestone in our vaccination rollout for Indigenous communities,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “We are grateful to First Nations and health care partners who are working together to ensure remote communities are vaccinated. With four vaccines now available, we are well positioned for our Phase Two rollout to make sure that every Ontarian who wants to be vaccinated will receive it.”

Operation Remote Immunity was officially launched on February 1, 2021 and aims to complete its work by the end of April 2021. Administration of second doses is currently underway in six of the communities, with 1,455 people scheduled to receive second doses the week of March 8, 2021. The vaccine is being offered to community members 18 years of age or older.