Above images courtesy of Canadian Armed Forces.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to march on marking a year since the first lockdown this month, Canada’s Defence Team has played and continues to play a larger part in response to help minimize the impacts of the pandemic.
Known as Operation Vector, the CAF support to federal, provincial, and territorial governments for the distributions of COVID-19 vaccines has CAF personnel in various positions, from strategic planning to assisting with transporting vulnerable individuals to and from vaccination sites in Canada’s remote Northern regions.
To help with the vaccine rollout Major-General Dany Fortin was seconded to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and named Vice President Logistics and Operations back in November.
Joining him at the agency are Brigadier-General Simon Bernard, Brigadier-General Krista Brodie, plus additional CAF personnel. Their job is to work alongside other leaders in PHAC’s Vaccine Roll-out Task Force.
CAF personnel tasks include helping to establish the operations centre to oversee the vaccine roll-out, synchronizing vaccine delivery efforts, and providing constant awareness of the status of vaccine storage, delivery and strategy implementation.
However, the Government of Canada’s website notes, “It’s important to note that the CAF’s primary role will not be to administer vaccinations, which is the role of local health authorities.”
Serving on the front lines in the north are members of the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (Canadian Rangers), where they are supporting Ornge, a not-for-profit whose core business is providing timely patient transportation. The not-for-profit tasks involve a range of paramedical services, by air and by land. Their team is also administrating the vaccinations.
Task Force Commander Lakehead
Task Force Commander Lakehead Lieutenant Commander (LCdr) Nathan Moulson says the Rangers “are extremely active, in the communities, whether it’s supporting Op Laser or Op Vector. Right now, they are supporting 32 Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities.”
Canadian Rangers and additional CAF personnel began assisting provincial vaccination authorities with tasks in response to a Request for Assistance (RFA).
The RFA was for support regarding delivering the first doses of the vaccine to 32 communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario on January 26, 2021.
The tasks included:
- General logistics support including transportation of personnel, community members, and materials;
- Local co-ordination including translation, integration of mobile teams, and distribution of information and educational materials; and
- Administrative support, including conducting COVID pre-screening questionnaires, reception, and other general support to planning and operations.
The Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities are responsible for establishing all the necessary facilities and plans for administering the vaccines. Then Ornge steps in and gives the vaccines to the residents.
“These are very small remote communities, and they don’t always have a lot of layers of support. So the Canadian Rangers have been going in to help set up and facilitate the vaccines. The Rangers are the ones closest to the actual delivering of the vaccines,” says LCdr Moulson.
Assisted 18 Northern Ontario First Nation Communities
As of February 17, 2021, the CAF has assisted 18 Northern Ontario First Nation communities with the set-up of COVID-19 vaccination clinics, which include: Peawanuck, Webequie, Muskrat Dam, Fort Severn, Kashechewan, Moose Factory, Attawapiskat, Neskantaga, Nibinamik, Wapekeka, Cat Lake, Fort Albany, Kingfisher Lake, Sachigo Lake, North Caribou, Kasabonika, Mishkeegogamang and Marten Falls.
Task Force Lakehead was created back in March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to organize all the units in Northwestern Ontario. The Task Force was provided with an area of operation that stretched from White River to the Manitoba border and from the United States border up to Atikokan, Ontario.
“Throughout the summer, we did a lot of training, team building, and organization logistically, and then we didn’t do a whole lot, and that’s the best outcome because if we’re responding to an RFA, we are the last resort.”
This past January, they were stood back up to support Operation Vector. This time the Task Force has 33 personnel supporting the RFA to support the Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities.
Task Force Lakehead provides logistical support to the Rangers while they’re in Thunder Bay because there is no base.
Select CAF personnel across the country have been conducting specific, tailored training, so they’re ready to provide assistance quickly in response to COVID-19. The training ensures CAF personnel participating in the fight against COVID-19 are prepared for the challenges they may face.
Possible tasks that are being planned for include:
- Providing international transportation to bring COVID-19 vaccines to Canada from manufacturers abroad
- transporting freezers, medical supplies, and health care professionals to remote, northern, and coastal communities, and
- providing logistical staff to warehousing facilities, distribution hubs, and immunization clinics
Royal Canadian Air Force
Between December 12 and 15, 2020, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) delivered five medical-grade low-temperature freezers (-35°C) to two of our Northern territories.
The freezers were delivered via an RCAF CC-130J Hercules Aircraft. This activity supports PHAC partners, who are leading the federal COVID-19 vaccine roll-out plan.
Delivering COVID-19 vaccines
Between January 14 and 17, 2021, four Canadian Rangers from Nain, Newfoundland, and Labrador assisted the local authorities with delivering COVID-19 vaccines.
They assisted with transporting vulnerable individuals within the community to and from the vaccination site.
In response to an RFA by the Yukon Territory Emergency Measures Office, five Canadian Rangers from the community of Watson Lake have been activated on January 20, 2021, to assist local authorities with tearing down a temporary vaccine administration site.