Vancouver Couple Fined After Flying to Remote Town for Vaccination

A Canadian couple violated coronavirus restrictions when they traveled to the Yukon Territory last week to get vaccinated, according to the authorities, prompting accusations of entitlement and raising concerns about infection in a remote community of about 100 people.

The couple, Rodney and Ekaterina Baker, of Vancouver, British Columbia, face fines of $1,000 for failing to isolate themselves for 14 days after they traveled to Yukon, even though they said they would, court records show.

Additionally, Mr. Baker, 55, who was the chief executive of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which operates casinos and hotels across Canada, resigned from his position on Sunday. Ms. Baker, 32, is an actress.

According to charging documents and Yukon authorities, the Bakers traveled about 1,200 miles to Yukon’s capital city, Whitehorse, on Jan. 19. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that instead of quarantining for the required 14 days, the couple chartered a flight to Beaver Creek, which is about 300 miles northwest of Whitehorse, last Thursday, claimed to be working at a motel in the area and got their shots.

They returned to Whitehorse before the authorities, acting on a tip from Beaver Creek, found them later that day, according to court records.

“I am outraged by this selfish behavior and find it disturbing that people would choose to put fellow Canadians at risk in this manner,” John Streicker, Yukon’s community services minister, said in a statement. “Reports allege these individuals were deceptive and violated emergency measures for their own advantage, which is completely unacceptable at any time, but especially during a public health crisis.”

Janet Vander Meer, a member of the White River First Nation who has been volunteering for months to help manage her community’s response to the pandemic, went to the community center in Beaver Creek when a mobile vaccination team came to town on Thursday.

It went smoothly, she said, and both she and her 72-year-old mother got doses of the Moderna vaccine. But she said that her blood boiled on Friday when she learned that a married couple had been accused of misrepresenting who they were and violating protocols in order to get their shots.

“The first thing that came to my mind is privilege,” Ms. Vander Meer, 53, said. “How dare they? I was outraged.”

Amid a global vaccine rollout, questions about who should get the shots first have been informed by the inequities laid bare by the pandemic, from disproportionately high rates of infection and death among poor people and people of color to disparate access to testing and health care.

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Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

These issues have become especially fraught amid vaccine shortages and distribution snafus in recent weeks. Now they are a subject of special ire in Beaver Creek.

Angela Demit, the chief of the White River First Nation, called the Bakers “privileged multimillionaires” in a statement on Monday and questioned why they were “putting our community at risk to jump the queue.”

“It’s clear to me that because we are a predominantly Indigenous community, that they assumed we were naïve,” she added. “There must be a clear signal sent that this behavior is unacceptable.”

Efforts to reach the Bakers on Tuesday were unsuccessful, and it was unclear whether they were being represented by a lawyer.

The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation announced Mr. Baker’s resignation on Monday. It later said in a statement that the company “takes health and safety protocols extremely seriously, and our company strictly follows all directives and guidance issued by public health authorities in each jurisdiction where we operate.”

Beaver Creek, which relies heavily on traffic from the Alaska Highway, has suffered economically amid travel restrictions during the pandemic. The community was made a priority for vaccinations in part because of its remoteness, and shots were made available to adults of all ages. Yukon identification cards were not required.

Beaver Creek is home to many older citizens and one small health clinic. The nearest hospital is hours away. Sitting on a border with Alaska, the community is a stone’s throw from the United States, which has had more coronavirus cases than any other country.

The people of Beaver Creek have been especially diligent about preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Ms. Vander Meer said, and the vaccinations on Thursday felt like a reunion — a chance to see neighbors and exchange socially distanced greetings in the community center’s gymnasium after months of relative isolation.

But news reports about the couple from Vancouver cast a pall over the occasion, Ms. Vander Meer said, and raised concerns about whether the community had been exposed to the virus — and questions about whether the fines were enough to prevent future harm.

“How,” she asked, “is that going to deter other people from doing the same thing to even more remote communities?”

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