By Major-General Marc Bilodeau,
Surgeon General, Canadian Armed Forces
As your Surgeon General, I have some good news to share with you after what has been an unprecedented year (2020) with the COVID-19 global pandemic having a profound impact on every Canadian. I want to assure you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As we welcome the New Year, we are also taking the first steps in the launch of the COVID-19 CAF vaccine rollout for members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Immunization of CAF members will begin in this month and will adhere to a CAF Vaccine Prioritization Framework which I will explain below.
The CAF have been working with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) for several months to prepare a plan to administer the COVID-19 vaccine for all CAF members who choose to receive it. The first phase of this plan was focused on determining the order in which CAF members are to be vaccinated in accordance with the rollout of vaccine supply. Based on the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidelines and my medical advice to the Chief of the Defence Staff who has directed the following Vaccine Prioritization Framework. It indicates the order of priority for COVID-19 immunizations within the CAF, depending on the availability of vaccine supply and logistics to delivery to the priority groups. The priority groups are as follows:
- The first priority group to receive a vaccine will be CAF members who are frontline healthcare providers who work in high risk clinical settings and long-term care facilities, or who have health conditions that make them vulnerable to severe forms of COVID-19. Vaccinations for 1,200 CAF members in this group are anticipated between January and February 2021.
- The second priority group will be CAF members who are at high risk but could not be accommodated within the first group. It also includes first responders and personnel who work with frontline workers who are helping to distribute the vaccine to communities throughout Canada. Vaccinations for members of this group are anticipated between April and June 2021.
- The third priority group will be CAF members who are engaged in providing essential support to those supplying critical services and operations. Vaccinations for members of this group are anticipated between April and December 2021.
- The fourth priority group will be CAF members working in force generation training and other education activities. Vaccinations for members of this group are anticipated between July and December 2021.
- The fifth priority group will encompass all remaining CAF members. Vaccinations for members of this group are anticipated between July and December 2021.
The CAF have already received and will be distributing and administering the Moderna vaccine for the first 1,200 CAF members starting in early January 2021. This allotment, based on what we have been allocated from PHAC as part of this phase, is our first in a series of vaccine allocations. Although we 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 our allocation of Moderna doses increases, we will adjust our phased timelines accordingly.
CAF members currently deployed or posted outside of Canada will not be receiving the vaccine from the current Canadian supply. There is planning underway to determine the most expeditious means of distributing to these CAF members (and their families where appropriate) including working with their host country for access to their vaccines once we have been assured that any such vaccines have been approved by Health Canada.
Department of National Defence’s Public Service and non-Public Service employees and contractors should obtain vaccines through their provincial or territorial health care system.
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 ourselves, and protect others to maintain operational effectiveness as we serve Canada and Canadians at home and abroad.
You will be provided regular updates with important details about vaccine availability and priorities in the weeks and months ahead. The vaccine rollout, not unlike the pandemic itself, happens in a constantly changing environment with frequent new developments; leadership teams and CAF members will need to stay informed of the situation as it develops so that they can be aware of how this will impact individuals and respective organizations. Keeping yourself well-informed with accurate information, and getting the vaccine when it is available to you, are important weapons that will assure preparedness of the Force and ensure mission success.
Please check the Defence Team COVID-19 webpage for updates and information: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/campaigns/covid-19.html
Additional information regarding COVID-19 vaccines in Canada can be found at the following links:
COVID-19 Vaccine Overview: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/vaccines.html
Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Information: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines/moderna.html
The beginning of the COVID-19 immunization program in the CAF gives us hope that 2021 will be a better year than 2020, but remember that the pandemic is not yet over. We are getting there, but we need to continue to protect the force in order to maintain the CAF’s operational readiness. By protecting yourself you are saving lives. Don’t let your guard down, continue to follow local public health guidelines, preventive health measures, and get the vaccine when it is available to you.
Let’s keep working together to fight COVID-19, the end is in sight, and we can all do our part to make 2021 a healthier and happier New Year.