New Brunswick's vaccination progress, by the numbers

·6 min read
By mid to late June, New Brunswick could have more than enough vaccine to get first shots to 75 per cent of eligible residents. (Shutterstock / New Africa - image credit)
By mid to late June, New Brunswick could have more than enough vaccine to get first shots to 75 per cent of eligible residents. (Shutterstock / New Africa - image credit)

By one measure, New Brunswick COVID-19 vaccinations hit a milestone Friday morning: 25 per cent of eligible residents have had at least one dose.

It inches the province closer to herd immunity, the threshold that should reduce transmission significantly, though it's not a perfect metric.

Those and other vaccination numbers, ever-shifting, continue to be the focus of intense interest across New Brunswick.

"Anecdotally, right now people are much more interested in the vaccine numbers, based on what gets picked up and tweeted," said Ray Harris of Fredericton, who maintains a COVID-19 tracking website.

"Tweeting case numbers seems kind of passé. The vaccine numbers get more steam. People, I think, want to be optimistic for the summer."

Some New Brunswickers are following the count so closely that they noticed, and complained, this week when the province removed the total number of doses shipped here from its online COVID-19 dashboard.

The figure remains available on a graph showing vaccination progress. It was 255,205 as of Friday morning.

Here's what those numbers and others are telling us now:

Uncommon denominators

That percentage the province is using to measure how many people have received one shot, 25 per cent, is actually not the best indicator of the progress to herd immunity.

It's based on the number of people eligible for vaccines, which is 661,500 because vaccines have only been approved for those 16 years of age and older.

Harris also uses that number.

"I want to measure it versus the government's goal," he said. "The government's goal is all eligible by July 1. I want to see how we're tracking for that."

Ray Harris, a data analyst from Fredericton, has been running a COVID-19 tracking website.
Ray Harris, a data analyst from Fredericton, has been running a COVID-19 tracking website.(Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

But when Public Health talks about herd immunity at about 75 per cent, it's referring to the province's total population of more than 781,000 — because even if kids can't get vaccinated, they can catch and spread the virus.

That higher figure is the one the CBC News vaccine tracker is using, and by that measure New Brunswick has given one dose to 21.2 per cent of the population.

"I do think the more realistic, thumbs-in-the-air, we're-doing-great metric is what CBC is using, the percentage of the entire population," Harris said.

Either way, we're in a not-bad position

Even with that more challenging metric, New Brunswick is faring reasonably well.

Most of the data nerds tracking progress across the country have us in sixth place among provinces for first doses.

The numbers fluctuate daily, but most days, New Brunswick is ahead of Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The shifting shelf

Another measure of provincial progress is how many vaccine doses have arrived in the province but haven't been used yet — though this is becoming a harder figure to rely on given the huge flow of vaccine.

Doses arrive once a week, and on that day, the "unused" percentage naturally jumps. Then, as doses are sent out around the province and administered, it goes back down.

On Thursday, April 8, for example, 32.5 per cent of the 211,545 doses shipped were sitting "on the shelf."

This week, New Brunswick received 16,100 doses of Moderna vaccine that were supposed to have arrived last week.
This week, New Brunswick received 16,100 doses of Moderna vaccine that were supposed to have arrived last week.(Evan Mitsui/CBC)

But over the next seven days, more than 30,000 doses were administered, so that by Thursday, April 15, only 17 per cent were left unused.

Late on Thursday, however, another 43,660 doses were logged as showing up, sending the percentage back up to 28 per cent. It will undoubtedly start to tumble again this weekend.

"We are not sitting on doses of vaccine in this province," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said on Thursday.

Not too slow, but not too fast

Shephard said it can take from two days to a week for a dose that arrives in New Brunswick to get into someone's arm.

Last week Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who's overseeing the federal rollout, said an "on the shelf" percentage of 30 per cent would be "a point for us to start a conversation" with a province about logistical concerns.

But he said provinces, stung by February delivery delays, also want to avoid draining their stockpile too fast in case there are more hiccups.

They "want to be careful not to create a situation where they have to cancel immunization or stop immunizing until they receive more vaccines," Fortin said.

Who needs our doses the most?

New Brunswick's vaccine rollout was intended to unfold more or less evenly around the province, but the persistent outbreak in Zone 4 has led officials to shift some doses there to try to slow transmission.

Now the Canadian Medical Association is asking for a similar shift nationally that would divert some doses earmarked for low-case provinces, such as New Brunswick to hard-hit Ontario.

On Friday, the Edmundston area had 15.7 cases per 100,000 people, by far the highest rate in the province. In Ontario the rate was 28.6 per 100,000 people and in Toronto it was even higher at 40.8.

Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday afternoon that while he wouldn't want the federal government diverting doses away from New Brunswick, he's willing to discuss the idea of sharing with his fellow premiers.

"I don't think we should dismiss it," he said. "I don't think that's the Canadian way."

Premier Blaine Higgs says he's willing to discuss the idea of sharing COVID-19 vaccines with other provinces with higher case counts.
Premier Blaine Higgs says he's willing to discuss the idea of sharing COVID-19 vaccines with other provinces with higher case counts.(CBC News)

He said a few thousand doses from this province might be best used in areas of Quebec bordering New Brunswick.

At the same time, the New Brunswick Medical Society is rejecting the idea.

"We have received only two per cent of the federal vaccine supply," said Dr. Jeff Steeves, the society's president. "At this stage, we do not have the resources required to effectively support much larger, more populous provinces."

Moderna's down, but Pfizer's up

Of the 43,660 doses that arrived in New Brunswick this week, 6,500 doses of AstraZeneca were from Covax, a global consortium aimed at pooling vaccines for less-well-off countries.

Any country that has paid into the Covax system has the right to access the pool, however, and when shipments to Canada were delayed in February, the Trudeau government exercised that option.

This week's numbers also included 16,100 Moderna doses that were supposed to arrive last week.

That influx of doses put us on track to have 427,000 doses by the end of May, according to the province's current forecast.

That number is likely to grow, however.

Moderna announced more delays Friday, but Pfizer promptly said it plans to send eight million more doses to Canada than planned between May and July, filling the Moderna gap and then some.

And thousands of single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccines will start arriving in May, Ottawa said Friday.

That makes it likely that by mid to late June, New Brunswick will have more than enough vaccine to get first shots to 75 per cent of eligible residents.