The Far North West communities of Île-à-la-Crosse and La Loche were among the first to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

The province said Registered Nurse Brittany Favel and her grandfather Jimmy Favel who is a resident in Île-à-la-Crosse Long Term Care were inoculated Tuesday.

The Sask. Health Authority said that La Loche started immunizing Tuesday as well.

“It’s pretty amazing that the vaccines are being administered in northern Saskatchewan,” said Île-à-la-Crosse Mayor Duane Favel. “It’s even more wonderful to see these vaccines are being administered to our long-term care residents in northern Saskatchewan. Our frontline workers, our health care workers who have worked tirelessly throughout the eight months. So, we’re pretty excited.”

Last week the province said is received 4900 Moderna doses, destined for communities in the Far North West and Far North Central regions.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Saqib Shahab said that half of the 4900 doses would be held back in Regina as northern communities had storage challenges, but committed that when the vaccines are needed, they would be shipped to communities.

Favel said the Far North West would see approximately 2900 doses. “Those are specifically targeted for long term care residents, health care workers, frontline workers. And then they’ll [provincial government] decide in terms of what the rest of the rollout is going to look like moving forward,” explained Favel.

Favel said seeing the vaccine in the communities has provided a sense of relief knowing that inoculations have started. Yet he said despite immunization commencing, Northerners still need to remain vigilant to fight against spreading the virus.

“We continue to respectfully ask your community residents and people in northern Saskatchewan to continue to follow the protocols of social distancing, wearing masks and all the things that we’ve been doing to support one another,” Favel said.

Not all northern leaders are happy with how the province handled the rollout of the first allotment in Northern Sask.

The Far North East region was excluded. The province indicated that the vaccinations were prioritized to communities with the highest test positivity rates.

Yet Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Season said she believes her First Nation meets provincial criteria.

“There’s no reason why the Far North East can’t be part of the first allotment of the 4900 Moderna vaccines. We meet the criteria of we have long term care residents and staff in the Far North East. We have personal care home residents and staff, we have priority health care workers, including those assigned to COVID-19 wards, COVID, a test testing and COVID assessments,” said Cook-Searson.

Cook-Searson sent a letter to the province seeking greater clarity on the vaccination program. A Ministry of Health spokesperson said a meeting with Far North East leaders on the second phase of the rollout is scheduled for this week.

(Photo: Jimmy Favel being COVID-19 immunized. Courtesy of the Sask. Health Authority.)