Maj.-Gen. Fortin gets the jab: Canadian military using Moderna to immunize its troops

Published April 27, 2021 5:28 p.m. ET

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OTTAWA -- The military general in charge of the logistics of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, has received his first dose as part of the Canadian Armed Forces’ immunization campaign.

Fortin—who with a team has been seconded to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Operations Centre to lead the massive and complex endeavour— received his shot last Friday, at a military vaccination clinic in Ottawa.

The entire domestic military vaccination campaign is running off doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which is what Fortin received. Allocated to the federal government through the agreements with the provinces and territories, so far the Forces has received approximately 39,000 doses of the two-dose vaccine.

As of April 26, approximately 15,000 military members—nearly 20 per cent of those eligible— have received their first dose, and approximately 1,800 have received their second dose after shots started going in arms in January.

The Canadian Armed Forces, which is responsible for providing health care to its members under the National Defence Act, has set up vaccine clinics on bases and in other military buildings across the country.

While so far the federal government has only provided the military with Moderna doses, it’s possible down the line—particularly if Moderna shipment issues persist—that other authorized vaccines could be put to use.

PRIORITIZING FRONT LINE

Based on advice from the Canadian Armed Forces Surgeon General Marc Bilodeau, the military has ranked its troops into five priority groups, with the target of all members being offered their first shots sometime between April and August.

The first priority group included front-line health staff who work in high-risk clinical settings such as those who have been deployed to assist in long-term care facilities or who work in Indigenous communities, as well as members who have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infections.

From there the military is prioritizing its first responders, military members helping administering vaccines in remote and rural communities, and anyone whose job it is to provide essential support such as search and rescue, the immediate response units, and aircraft maintenance. Then it will be the turn of members who focus on training or education, such as the staff and students at a military college.

Department of National Defence public servants, reserve force personnel, and the families of military members who aren’t covered under the military health system have been told to access their COVID-19 vaccines through their provincial or territorial health systems as they become eligible.

JAB 'STRONGLY ENCOURAGED'

While receiving the shot as a member of military remains voluntary, the Forces says it’s being “strongly encouraged,” and it may be a requirement for certain positions or operations.

“The intent remains to protect ourselves, and protect others to maintain operational effectiveness as we serve Canada and Canadians at home and abroad,” said Bilodeau in a message to the military at the outset of the immunization effort. 

The military didn’t specify what dose interval guidance it’s following, whether the manufacturer recommended 28 days between dose one and two, or the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s guidance to delay the second shot by up to four months.

“Canadian Forces Health Services continues to monitor the recommendations being made by PHAC for the option of extended vaccine dosing intervals. The intent of CAF is to vaccinate our personnel who choose to be vaccinated, as quickly and as safely as possible,” said Canadian Forces Health Services spokesperson Julia Scott in a statement to CTVNews.ca. “The extended vaccine dosing intervals will allow the CAF to adapt to the unique operational considerations of our personnel.”

The booking system varies across the country, with some members able to schedule through an online booking system, while others are making appointments by phone or email.

PLAN FOR TROOPS OUTSIDE CANADA

With members of the Canadian Armed Forces stationed outside the country—including those posted as part of NATO, NORAD, and UN operations—the military says there are steps being taken to see that they also have access to COVID-19 vaccines.

In certain situations the Department of National Defence has co-ordinated with other nations’ health authorities to offer doses of Health Canada-approved vaccines from their own supplies.

“While most OUTCAN members and their accompanying dependants will be vaccinated by allied host nations, arrangements will be made to immunize members when this is not possible, including administration of the vaccine in Canada before being posted abroad,” reads the military’s information page about its immunization plan. 


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