Guns Out: Vaccine Doses for CAF Personnel

January 20, 2021 - Defence Stories


At the end of 2020, we received our first shipment of 2,400 Health Canada-approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which will protect 1,200 members.
Photo: Avr Lanny Jellicoe

Ready to serve. Fit to fight.

Canada’s soldiers, sailors and aviators are, without a doubt, our most valuable weapons systems. Our highest-tech kit.

To keep Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members at the height of operational readiness, the provision of their health care falls under the National Defence Act. The Department of National Defence (DND) and the CAF have a responsibility to ensure that military members receive health benefits and services comparable with those provided to other Canadians through provincial and territorial plans and under the Canada Health Act, tailored to meet operational requirements and members' unique needs.

This responsibility is one we uphold as sacrosanct and, we have taken an important step forward in its delivery.

At the end of 2020 we received our first shipment of 2,400 Health Canada-approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which will protect 1,200 members.

This delivery marks a key milestone in the planning of future large-scale deliveries of the vaccine to the CAF, with more to come in coming months.

“Health Canada authorizes COVID-19 vaccines for use in Canada only after an independent and thorough scientific review for safety and efficacy, and I stand behind this”, says CAF Surgeon General, Major-General Marc Bilodeau. “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 healthcare professionals, vaccine manufacturers, the provinces and territories, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Health Canada.”

Our doses, which were provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), will be made available to members through the Canadian Forces Health Services system based on our COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization Framework.

Our first priority, much like the model followed by provincial authorities and guided by PHAC, is to vaccinate our 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. On January 7, the CAF administered the first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccination to Private Connor Doucette of 2 Field Ambulance due to his occupation as a Medical Technician. Pte Doucette is also assigned to a team that could deploy to support Canadians domestically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Various CAF bases and wings have already administered hundreds of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Priority 1 personnel.

Our Priority 2 members are those CAF members who work in high risk settings similar to those in Priority 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.

In coming weeks and months, we can expect tens of thousands of more vaccine deliveries to immunize other CAF members. In fact, like other Canadians, we expect to see the delivery of the remainder of our required doses and the majority of individual immunizations to be completed by late-Summer/early-Fall 2021.

Priority 3 members are 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 contributing to NORAD, NATO, UN Operations or working directly with other international partners and those providing direct support to different levels of government.

CAF members posted outside of Canada (OUTCAN) are also included in this cadre. 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.

Priority 4 are those 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.

While we expect all CAF members interested in receiving the vaccine to be able to do so in the second half of 2021, it’s important to note the priority groups are not mutually exclusive – depending on the availability of doses and logistics, multiple priority groups may be provided the vaccine at the same time.

Some have asked if the COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for CAF members. Major-General Bilodeau explains, “Like other vaccines provided to eligible 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 ourselves, and protect others to maintain operational effectiveness as we serve Canada and Canadians at home and abroad.”

DND public servant 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 Canadian Forces Health Services system.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines for CAF members is an exciting – if not somewhat relieving – development, we still have a long road ahead.

We still need to remain vigilant and follow all existing public health measures, such as physical distancing and mask wearing, to reduce the risk of contracting and/or spreading COVID-19.

While vaccination is an effective way to help protect Canadians against the coronavirus, the best way remains is to avoid getting it in the first place.

We all play a role in reducing the burden on our health-care system and in ensuring our force remains operationally ready to be called upon when needed.

This fight is not yet over. Let’s keep fighting it together.

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