New Brunswick is poised to vaccinate more and more people in younger and younger age groups as vaccine supplies ramp up over the next four weeks.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said Tuesday that she expects to continue dropping the age cut-off every week between now and the end of May.
"The increased number of doses and steady delivery of those doses over the next four weeks is quite substantive, so we're really on track right now to get through each week in the vicinity of [43,000] to 45,000 doses," Russell said at a briefing Tuesday.
"Each week we'll be able to continue down the path of announcing the age groups that are eligible to receive vaccines."
The province announced Tuesday that people aged 50 and older can now register for appointments through pharmacies and regional health authorities. Until Tuesday, 60 was the age cut-off.
As of Tuesday, 37.4 percent of eligible adults, and 31.7 percent of the entire population, had been vaccinated after a week that saw the pace of shots slow down.
Between Monday April 26 and Monday May 3, the province administered 27,418 doses, below the 30,000-per-week pace that Russell talked about last week.
But that's due in part to the dip in deliveries to the province in the same week. New Brunswick received only 21,060 doses in the same period, meaning more doses were administered than received.
That decline is expected to reverse this week with more than 75,000 additional doses of vaccine, the largest single-week delivery so far.
I think we're going to be able to get through a very large amount of our population in the next four weeks. - Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health
The figure includes 12,500 doses of Moderna that were scheduled to be here last week but showed up in the official count Tuesday.
The federal government says another 20,600 Moderna doses, scheduled to ship next week, will arrive earlier than expected this week.
And there are 42,120 doses of Pfizer on the way, a doubling of last week's volume.
That's a total of 75,220 doses, representing a first dose for almost one out of every 10 New Brunswickers.
Russell said the province aims to get 43,000 to 45,000 people per week their first shots but can adjust to the even larger volume.
"I think we're going to be able to get through a very large amount of our population in the next four weeks," she said. "So I think each week we're going to be able to continue to announce another age cohort."
Russell would not say when the rate of vaccination might allow the province to start to lift some public health restrictions.
She said she and her staff are watching what is happening in other countries who are ahead of New Brunswick's rollout and who are starting to look at what restrictions can end.
"It remains to be seen," Russell said.
She wouldn't comment on a graph sent to reporters two weeks ago showing the province's projected vaccination rate each week between now and June.
It forecast the rate passing 40 per cent this coming week and reaching 60 per cent the week of May 24-30. That week's milestone was highlighted in red.
Russell said Tuesday she didn't have the graph with her and couldn't say whether that highlighted week represented a target or a threshold for policy changes.
Weekly Pfizer shipments will increase again in June. The graph shows about 95 per cent of New Brunswickers are projected to have first shots by the last week of June.
Meanwhile, 6,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine allocated to New Brunswick remain on hold while Health Canada checks on potential manufacturing problems at the U.S. plant where they were made.
"The best information that we have is that Health Canada is continuing to review that data and we don't have a clear line of sight yet on when those … doses would be released," said federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
Vaccination expert Dr. Noni MacDonald of the Dalhousie University school of medicine said a single-shot vaccine would be ideal for transient people such as homeless people or rotational workers who may be difficult to schedule for second doses, or for people who fear needles.
"For those people this might be the right way to go forward," she said.
Russell said the Johnson and Johnson doses aren't factored into the province's rollout plan yet, so there's no decision on who would get them.
"Right now we're in a holding pattern," she said.