COVID-19 vaccines for Canadian Armed Forces members
The provision of health care for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members falls under the National Defence Act to keep members at the height of operational readiness. The Department of National Defence (DND) and the CAF have a responsibility to ensure that eligible military members receive health benefits and services comparable to those provided to other Canadians through provincial and territorial plans and under the Canada Health Act, but tailored to meet operational requirements and members' unique needs.
The CAF began distribution and administration of the Health Canada-approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to those members in the first priority group in early January 2021, in accordance with the rollout of vaccine supply.
The order in which CAF members will be vaccinated has been determined by the Chief of the Defence Staff in the COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization Framework, based on National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidelines, and advice from the Surgeon General of the CAF. This comes after months of working with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) planning how to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to all eligible CAF members.
CAF COVID-19 vaccine Priority Groups
CAF COVID-19 vaccine doses, which were provided by PHAC, will be made available to members through the Canadian Forces Health Services (CFHS) system. The order of priority groups for COVID-19 vaccine immunizations within the CAF, depending on the availability of vaccine supply and logistics to delivery, is as follows:
First priority group
Frontline health care providers who work in higher-risk clinical settings and members who have health conditions that make them vulnerable to severe forms of COVID-19. This includes, for instance, those clinicians who support Long Term Care Facilities, provide medical care to vulnerable residents of Indigenous communities, and members providing medical care to CAF members potentially infected with COVID-19.
Second priority group
CAF members who work in high-risk settings similar to those in Priority Group 1 who were not offered the vaccine during the initial allocation. This will include CAF first responders and members tasked to either deliver or support the delivery of vaccines to remote or high-risk communities. They can expect to receive their first dose in the near future.
Third priority group
CAF members deployed or employed in providing essential support to CAF critical functions and capabilities, such as Search and Rescue, readiness functions like the Immediate Reaction Task Force, aircraft maintenance, Immediate Response Units, Ready Duty Ships, Humanitarian Assistance, Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Cyber Assurance, and Casualty Support Management. Also included are CAF personnel posted outside of Canada (OUTCAN) and those contributing to NORAD, NATO, UN Operations or working directly with other international partners and those providing direct support to different levels of government. 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, to include administration of the vaccine in Canada before being posted abroad. CAF members deployed or employed in providing essential support to CAF critical functions and capabilities, such as Search and Rescue, readiness functions like the Immediate Reaction Task Force, aircraft maintenance, Immediate Response Units, Ready Duty Ships, Humanitarian Assistance, Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Cyber Assurance, and Casualty Support Management. Also included are CAF personnel posted outside of Canada (OUTCAN) and those contributing to NORAD, NATO, UN Operations or working directly with other international partners and those providing direct support to different levels of government. 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, to include administration of the vaccine in Canada before being posted abroad.
Fourth priority group
CAF members engaged in force generation, training, and education activities. For example, this includes CAF personnel training to prepare for assigned missions, and instructors, staff and students at the CAF’s Royal Military Colleges and recruit school.
Fifth priority group
All remaining CAF members.
DND public service employees and Reserve Force personnel, including Canadian Rangers and Cadet Instructors Cadre, may access their COVID-19 vaccine through their provincial and territorial health care providers once it becomes available if they are not covered by the CFHS system.
CAF COVID-19 Vaccine Supply
At the end of 2020, the CAF received its first shipment of 2,400 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines which will protect 1,200 members.
In the coming weeks and months, the CAF can expect tens of thousands of more vaccine deliveries to immunize its members. In fact, the CAF can expect to see the delivery of the remainder of its required doses and the majority of individual immunizations to be completed by late-Summer/early-Fall 2021.
More information about the COVID-19 vaccine
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Health Canada authorizes COVID-19 vaccines for use in Canada only after an independent and thorough scientific review for safety and efficacy. Side effects of the vaccine for most people are generally mild or moderate, although adverse reactions can occur in some individuals. Canada has a strong vaccine safety monitoring system in place that proactively engages health care professionals, vaccine manufacturers, the provinces and territories, PHAC, and Health Canada.
Like other vaccines provided to CAF members, the COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory; this remains a voluntary option for all. Whether or not a vaccine will be made a requirement for an operation or a position is a decision to be made by operational commanders, in consultation with their medical advisors. However, CAF members may require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination in order to operate in certain high-risk environments or with vulnerable populations. The intent remains to protect the CAF, and protect others to maintain operational effectiveness as they serve Canada and Canadians at home and abroad.
Although the CAF could receive other Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccines from other suppliers as the year progresses, the Moderna vaccine is the only one currently available to the CAF. As other vaccines become available and/or the CAF allocation of Moderna doses increases, phased timelines will be adjusted accordingly.
The CAF Surgeon General encourages all members of the Defence Team to not let their guard down, continue to follow local public health guidelines, preventive health measures, and get the vaccine when it is available to them.
Additional information regarding COVID-19 vaccines in Canada, as well as COVID-19 vaccines for CAF members, can be found at the following links:
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