Central Health reveals more details over vaccine hiccup, as N.L. reports no new cases of COVID-19

·3 min read

Central Health is revealing more information about a problem with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which forced the health authority to hastily organize an immunization clinic to prevent it from losing some doses.

After repeated requests from CBC, the health authority provided more details by email Tuesday afternoon.

The statement said a shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine "went to a temperature that did not permit longer storage" on its way to Grand Falls-Windsor on Jan. 7, and had to be administered within six hours.

The health authority said that batch made up only a "small portion" of its supply: 160 doses that were allotted for a clinic the next day.

The temperature monitor for the shipment went outside the recommended 2 to 8 C, meaning they could not be refrozen. According to the statement, the health authority "engaged provincial consultants who confirmed the vaccine was safe to use but had to be administered in the required time frame."

The health authority says it suspects there may have been an issue with the placement of the monitor that was measuring the temperature of the vaccine. It said the doses fell out of the recommended temperature range, but none of them were wasted.

"We quickly organized an impromptu clinic with priority health-care workers, along with a small number of additional employees who were available to attend at such a short notice," the statement said.

"The 160 doses were safely administered with no wastage. Many of those who were immunized already had appointments booked for Friday onward."

Andrew Furey/Twitter
Andrew Furey/Twitter

Central Health refused two requests to do an interview with CBC, and wouldn't provide more information on the incident until Tuesday afternoon, such as what the exact problem was, what type of vaccine was involved, and how many people ended up vaccinated.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the health authority said someone would speak about the issue to CBC's Newfoundland Morning on Thursday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures to be viable, between –60 C and –80 C. The Moderna vaccine is more stable, but must still be stored at around –20 C. The provincial government has said that due to Moderna's stability, those doses were earmarked for remote communities in Labrador.

Also on Tuesday afternoon, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the person in charge of national vaccine distribution, said Canada would not receive any doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week, as the company upgrades its European plant. Fortin said that delay will have "considerable impact."

It's not clear yet on how the drop in shipments will affect Newfoundland and Labrador.

No new cases Tuesday

The province has five active cases of COVID-19, with one person in hospital, the Department of Health said Tuesday.

No new cases were reported Tuesday, and one person in the Eastern Health region has recovered since Monday, with a total of 384 people recovering since March.

As of Tuesday, 76,740 people have been tested, and as of last Wednesday, 5,291 vaccine doses had been administered. The Department of Health has said vaccination data will be released weekly.

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