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Yukon’s Premier says COVID-19 vaccine uptake has been “fantastic” as just over half the territory’s residents have received their first dose, but he’s concerned about rising numbers of variants elsewhere in Canada.

Sandy Silver says the territory is focusing on meeting its goal of vaccinating 75 per cent of the population to reach herd immunity before lifting current restrictions despite zero cases in Yukon.

He says a clinic for everyone aged 18 and over opened in Whitehorse this week and mobile clinics are returning to smaller communities to provide second shots to people over 60.

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Silver says as of Monday, 11,503 Yukon residents had received their first shot while second shots were administered to about half that number.

He joined chief medical health officer Dr. Brendan Hanley in saying numbers on vaccine uptake would not be provided for specific areas to prevent pitting communities against each other.

Hanley is urging residents to continue taking all precautions as clinics go “full tilt” in the territory.

“If cases, and particularly variants, lead to increased COVID our risk of importing variants will go up day by day,” he says.

Seventy-one Yukoners have recovered from the illness and one person has died since the pandemic began.

Hanley, who received his shot on Wednesday, says 850 people were immunized in the mass clinic on Tuesday.

Yukon and other territories have received a higher allocation of vaccine doses because remote areas have limited access to specialized care.

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“While we recognize that immunizing the territories is the right thing to do for Canada this incredible opportunity should provide us with extra motivation to step up and get a vaccine,” Hanley says.

However, he says “vaccine hesitancy is a reality” and it will be important to address people’s questions so they’re comfortable being immunized in order to protect everyone.

Hanley says despite four weeks without any active cases, the restrictions will remain because the territory is in a “nebulous” time and on guard against variants.

“This is a huge consideration for us because regardless of whether we have zero or 10 cases right now we are always managing risk of importation,” he says.

“Vaccine uptake is so critical to getting to a place where we can be much more confident about being able to propose a solid framework for opening up.”

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