New Brunswick set to hold first COVID-19 vaccine clinics for front-line workers

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FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's health minister says there is excitement and anticipation as public health officials prepare to vaccinate front-line health-care workers and others against COVID-19 on Saturday.

"We're beginning on a new path to COVID recovery," Dorothy Shephard said Friday at the provincial legislature in Fredericton.

The province — the last in the country to begin its vaccination campaign — plans to inoculate 1,950 workers with their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, to be followed by a second shot three weeks later.

Greg McCallum, director of New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization, is leading the province's vaccination campaign. He said while other provinces got an earlier start, it took a bit longer for New Brunswick to organize this weekend's clinics at the Miramichi Regional Hospital.

"This one was deliberately planned for a weekend to capitalize on a couple of opportunities," McCallum said. "One was the availability of residents from a nearby long-term care facility. And as well, health-care workers of various stripes that could be available over the weekend.

"It took an extra couple of days because with so many invitations to so many people from so many different directions, it took a bit of time to finalize the first 1,950," he said. The first New Brunswicker who will get the vaccine is Pauline Gauvin, a resident of a long-term care facility in Miramichi, McCallum said.

The union representing ambulance drivers in New Brunswick raised concerns when some employees who received invitations to get the vaccine were denied because they were scheduled to work.

Minister Shephard said she understands that people want the vaccine, but she said they also need to ensure the province is properly covered by ambulance service.

"There are going to be some logistical requirements and planning that go along with this," she said. "Ambulance New Brunswick is going to have to manage the paramedics they have on shifts and the paramedics distribution throughout the province."

Andrew McLean, president of CUPE Local 4848, said he understands the position of both the government and his members. "It would not be ethical or appropriate to leave areas of the system out of service," he said.

Meanwhile, the province has accepted an offer from the owner of a bluefin tuna exporting company in eastern Prince Edward Island for a loan of two freezers that can store the vaccine, which has to be kept below -70 C.

Jason Tompkins, whose company last week lent two of its freezers to P.E.I., said the ultralow-temperature freezers will be shipped to New Brunswick Monday.

"We're in a really unique situation — a small fishing company in North Lake, P.E.I. — and we just happen to have the equipment needed for this rollout," he said in an interview Friday. "As far as we were concerned it was just a case of do the right thing."

Tompkins said he's been flooded with cards, emails and phone calls from across the country from people who just want to say thank you.

New Brunswick reported no new cases of COVID-19 Friday, while Nova Scotia reported seven new infections.

All the new cases in Nova Scotia were in the Halifax area. Five involved close contacts of previously reported cases and two were related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.

Meanwhile, the province said it will begin asking rotational, out-of-province workers to get two tests during their two-week period of self-isolation.

The province also said that starting Jan. 4, post-secondary students from outside Atlantic Canada who return to Nova Scotia after the holidays will be advised to get one COVID-19 test on day six, seven or eight of their 14-day required isolation period.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported five new cases of COVID-19 Friday. Health officials said four of those infections are travel related and that the source of the fifth infection is under investigation.

The new infections brought the active caseload in Newfoundland and Labrador to 27, and officials said one person was in hospital with the disease.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2020.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press