New Brunswick will stop giving the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine as the first dose to the general public, but will continue using the product, the province's chief medical officer of health announced Thursday.
Dr. Jennifer Russell also confirmed two more New Brunswickers who received the vaccine suffered a rare but potentially deadly blood clot associated with low platelets, known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT.
The people, both in their 50s, received the shot in mid-April, she said. One experienced symptoms after about 11 days, and the other after 19 days.
One person has recovered, while the other is still in hospital undergoing treatment.
The cases were previously reported as suspected and under investigation. No other details will be released, due to patient confidentiality, Public Health said.
The province will continue to use AstraZeneca for second doses, "as per Health Canada's recommendation," said Russell.
It will also be offered to people 55 or older who are confined at home and don't have access to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require ultra-cold storage and can't be transported to them. They must provide their informed consent.
"There are risks with this product, but there are also benefits when it is used appropriately," said Russell.
"In our judgment, we really must employ every tool at our disposal to limit the spread of COVID-19 and further outbreaks."
Earlier this month, a New Brunswicker in their 60s died after developing blood clots following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine. In April, someone in their 30s, who received the vaccine in March, also suffered a blood clot, but recovered.
The risk of blood clots associated with the vaccine is currently estimated at one in 55,000 in Canada.
In New Brunswick, about 44,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered and four people have developed blood clots. That works out to one blood clot reaction for every 11,000 shots.
"The rate is a bit higher here, but that can happen," said Russell.
Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Alberta and Quebec all suspended the use of AstraZeneca for first doses this week, citing new data showing a still-small but higher risk of blood clots than before.
"Our approach differ may differ from from what is used in other provinces. But in a general sense, we're pretty much in alignment," Russell said.
In a tweet Thursday evening, Education Minister Dominic Cardy suggested New Brunswick's decision was based only on supply issues, not due to concerns over blood clots.
In a revised news release, the government said: "Currently the supply is limited so it is being used for those who are homebound and cannot access another vaccine. If supply of AstraZeneca increases, it will continue to be offered to New Brunswickers who want it."
The province has about 4,000 doses of the vaccine that must be used before they expire on May 31, and is due to receive another 13,500 doses through the Covax distribution system next week.
Russell expects these will be offered to those 55 or over who received a first dose of AstraZeneca and want a second dose of the same vaccine, and "also to help in the event of an outbreak requiring vaccination, unless pending data suggests otherwise."
The province is awaiting advice from Health Canada on whether people who had AstraZeneca as their first dose should get the same vaccine for their second shot or a different one.
"That information was supposed to be ready for us tomorrow, but it's now being delayed until the end of the month," Russell said, urging patience.
"We are going to determine how to proceed with the second dose when the time comes to administer it."
16 new cases
New Brunswick Public Health reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including one outside the province.
The breakdown of the new cases is as follows:
Moncton region, Zone 1, two cases:
A person 19 or under.
A person 50-59.
One case is a contact of a previously confirmed case and the other is under investigation.
Saint John region, Zone 2, one case:
A person 30-39.
This case is travel related.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, 10 cases:
Three people 19 and under.
A person 20-29.
Two people 30-39.
Four people 40-49.
Six cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases, one is travel-related and three are under investigation.
Edmundston region, Zone 4, one case:
A person 40-49.
This case is travel-related.
Bathurst region, Zone 6, two cases:
A person 50-59.
A person 60-69.
One case is travel-related and one is a contact of a previously confirmed case.
Six patients are hospitalized in New Brunswick, including two in an intensive care unit. Another four patients are hospitalized out of province.
There are now 127 active cases of the respiratory disease.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said she's worried about the Moncton region, Zone 1, where the COVID variant first reported in the U.K. is circulating, and the Fredericton region, Zone 3, where the variant first reported in India is circulating.
New Brunswick has had 2,040 confirmed cases of COVID since the pandemic started. There have been 1,871 recoveries so far and 41 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 309,544 COVID tests have been conducted.
As of Thursday, 296,332 New Brunswickers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That's 42.7 per cent of the eligible population, aged 12 and older.
Vaccines now available to people 30+
COVID-19 vaccines are now available to people aged 30 and over.
The province is making a lot of progress in its campaign to get people vaccinated, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said during the COVID briefing Thursday.
This week alone, 31,124 people booked appointments to get their first dose through the regional health authorities, he said.
"To put that in context, that's about one-fifth of all of the appointments booked since March 18," he said. "And it doesn't include the appointments that have been booked through the pharmacies."
On Monday morning, when eligibility was expanded to include people aged 40 and older, a record 18,630 people booked an appointment through the government's website within 22 hours, said Department of Health spokesperson Shawn Berry.
On Thursday, once eligibility was opened up to those born in 1991 or earlier, nearly 7,300 appointments were booked between 2 and 5:30 p.m., said Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.
Outbreak at Fredericton hospital, rehab centre, veterans unit
The Horizon Health Network has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital, Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation and Veterans Health Unit after an employee of the hospital tested positive Thursday for a COVID-19 variant of concern.
"The employee is self-isolating, but there has been a high-risk of exposure in recent days," the regional health authority said in a news release.
All three facilities have returned to red level protocols, effective immediately.
Employee Health will contact any staff and physicians who were potentially exposed, while all staff and physicians at the three facilities will continue to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, the release said.
It does not mention how many members of the public may have been exposed.
Visitation will be restricted, with some exceptions. More details are expected to be available on Horizon's website later today.
Non-urgent surgeries and outpatient appointments will be postponed until further notice.
Non-urgent professional service outpatient appointments, including therapeutic services, blood and specimen collection, diagnostic imaging (X-ray), electrodiagnostics and respiratory therapy, will also be postponed until further notice.
Affected patients have been notified.
"While postponing these important services is certainly not ideal, it is of the utmost importance that we act swiftly to ensure the safety of our patients, physicians and staff and do everything we can to mitigate the risk of spread in our facilities," president and CEO Karen McGrath said in a statement.
Delta Fredericton dropped as quarantine hotel
The Delta Fredericton is no longer one of New Brunswick's designated quarantine hotels, the chief medical officer of health confirmed Thursday.
Two positive linked cases of COVID-19 have been identified at the hotel, she said during the COVID briefing.
At least one of those cases is a staff member, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane later confirmed.
The positive results came back from tests conducted Wednesday, he said. "They're taking extra precautions and they're reswabbing the staff today."
The hotel's restaurant STMR.36 BBQ & Social is closed. Macfarlane could not immediately say for how long.
Both the hotel and restaurant have been added to lengthy list of potential public exposures in the Fredericton region.
People already in isolation at the Delta have been instructed to continue isolating in place and comply with the testing regime, Macfarlane said.
The Delta's director of sales and marketing, Colin Richardson, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The province is now down to three isolation hotels, from seven, according to Russell. She said she believes there will be a new one announced for Fredericton.
Allie Murchison, spokesperson for the Red Cross, which is managing the quarantine hotels, declined an interview, deferring inquiries to Russell, but did say "a lot of the hotels are willing to step up."
Last month, the province announced leisure travellers, business travellers, and people moving to New Brunswick had to isolate at a designated hotel for at least seven days, at a cost of about $200 a day. If a COVID-19 test on their fifth day comes back negative, they can complete their 14-day isolation at home.
But earlier this month, following public outcry, the province said it was easing up on the rules, allowing some of these non-essential travellers to stay at a stand-alone private residence with government approval.
Positive cases keep 2 schools in Fredericton closed
Two schools in the Fredericton area, Leo Hayes High School and Nashwaaksis Middle School, are closed today to allow for contact tracing and deep cleaning after positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified at the schools.
Two cases were confirmed at Leo Hayes on Wednesday.
Students will learn from home Thursday and Friday. Since no school was scheduled for Monday, students are expected to return to school on Tuesday, unless they're contacted directly by Public Health.
"Public Health officials will contact you if your child has been in close contact with the confirmed cases and will tell you if your child needs to self-isolate," David McTimoney, superintendent of the Anglophone West School District, said in a letter to parents Wednesday.
One positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed at Nashwaaksis Middle School on Wednesday.
In an update to parents Thursday night, McTimoney said the school will transition to online learning from home Friday "due to a high number of staff vacancies that have not been backfilled."
If students need to retrieve any items to assist with learning from home, they will be permitted to visit the school Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., with online classes starting at 10 a.m., he said.
The situation will be reassessed on Monday and an update will be provided at that time, he added.
The Leo Hayes closure impacts about 1,500 students and 100 staff, while about 600 students and 40 staff are affected at Nashwaaksis Middle School, said Education Minister Dominic Cardy.
There was also a possible exposure at New Maryland Elementary School on Wednesday.
Students there can continue to go to school unless they're contacted by Public Health.
"We are working with Public Health officials to identify the individuals who may come into contact with the virus," McTimoney said.
Vaccines won't be mandatory in schools
During Thursday's briefing, Education Minister Dominic Cardy praised staff for helping keep things as normal as possible for students over the last year.
"I thank everyone for their tireless efforts to protect our students and staff. Because of you, our students have been able to maintain routines and ensure their physical, mental and social needs are met."
He strongly encouraged department staff to continue to get vaccinated, but he drew the line at making vaccinations mandatory.
"It shouldn't have to be something legislated," said Cardy.
And he said he wasn't aware of any effort to do so.
When the time comes to vaccinate school-aged children, Cardy said the plan is to hold clinics within schools. He said his department has been working with Public Health officials to offer vaccinations during the school year as quickly as possible.
Atlantic bubble possible by July 1
Premier Blaine Higgs believes the Atlantic bubble could reopen by July 1.
Opening up to the rest of Canada is "possible," but not probable, he told reporters Thursday.
Higgs said he remains hopeful Nova Scotia's case numbers will drop off soon, but "we have a number of [variant] cases today" and new exposures that could create the risk of a situation similar to that of Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia reported 110 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, putting the province's total active cases at 1,572. Eighty-five people are in hospital, including 15 in intensive care.
"We are not out of the woods yet," he said.
Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed seven new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, for a total of 82 active cases.
Prince Edward Island reported one new case, which led to the closure of a Charlottetown daycare centre that cared for as many as 40 children. The province has seven active cases.
The Atlantic bubble allows travel among the four Atlantic provinces without the need to self-isolate.
Moncton Coliseum testing clinic closed
The Horizon Health Network closed its COVID-19 assessment centre and blood collection clinic at the Moncton Coliseum Thursday morning as RCMP responded to a report of shots fired in the Centennial Park area.
"If you had an appointment, please DO NOT go to the Coliseum. Follow @RCMPNB for more information," the regional health authority posted on social media at 10:25 a.m.
Gunshots were reported at about 8:30 a.m., prompting police to seal off the area and advise residents to stay inside their homes and away from windows.
Police described the gunshot report as "credible" and said no one was injured, but released few other details when they gave the all-clear around 6 p.m., other than to say the investigation continues.
New exposure notifications
Public Health has identified a potential public exposure to the coronavirus at the following locations and dates in the Fredericton region, Zone 3:
McDonald's Restaurant, 1177 Prospect St., on May 5, at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.
McDonald's Restaurant in Walmart, 125 Two Nations Crossing, on May 6, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Brainfix Clinic, 56 Avonlea Crt., on May 6.
Adica Massage Clinic, 152 King St., on May 6.
Williams Chiropractic, 169 Main St., on May 6.
Simms Home Hardware Building Centre, 190 King St., on May 6.
Costco Gas Bar, 5 Wayne Squibb Blvd., on May 6.
Massage Experts, 169 Dundonald St., on May 6, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and on May 7, from 10:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Jacks Pizza, 379 King St., on May 7, at 1 p.m.
Mitch Clarke Skate Park, 116 Johnston Ave. on May 7, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Garrison Skatepark, York Street parking lot, on May 7, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
James Joyce Pub, 659 Queen St., on May 7, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
McDonald's Restaurant, 94 Main St., on May 7, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and May 8, from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Princess Auto, 21 Trinity Ave., on May 8, from 8 a.m. to noon.
Fredericton Public Library, 12 Carleton St., on May 8, from 10 a.m. to noon.
Northside Market, 170 Main St., on May 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Irving Oil, 181 King St., on May 9, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Dollarama, 5 Trinity Dr., on May 9, from noon to 2 p.m.
NB Liquor, 18 Trinity Dr., on May 9, from noon to 5 p.m.
Home Sense, 18 Trinity Dr., on May 9, from noon to 5 p.m.
Tim Hortons' drive thru, Regent Street, on May 10, at 1:30 p.m.
Superstore, 471 Smythe St, on May 10, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and May 11, from 10 a.m. to noon.
Shoppers Drug Mart, 1040 Prospect St., on May 11, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Scott's Nursery, 2192 Route 102, on May 8, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Public Health is offering COVID-19 testing to anyone who has been in a public exposure area, even it they're not experiencing any symptoms. Residents may request a test online or call Tele-Care 811 to book an appointment.
Previous exposure notifications
Public Health has identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious on May 6 while on the following flights:
Air Canada Flight 396 – from Edmonton to Toronto, departed at 6:50 a.m.
Air Canada Flight 8898 – from Toronto to Moncton, departed at 8:43 p.m.
Public Health has identified a potential public exposure to the coronavirus at the following locations and dates in the following regions:
Pumphouse, 5 Orange Ln., Moncton, on May 4 between 8 and 10 p.m.
Staples, 233 Main St., Moncton, on May 5, between noon and 8 p.m.
Walmart Supercentre, 477 Paul St., Dieppe, on May 6, between 7 and 10 p.m.
Greco Pizza, 311 Acadie Blvd., Dieppe, on May 7, between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Greco Pizza, 120 Killam Dr., Moncton, on May 5, between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m., May 3, between 5:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., and May 2, between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Greco Pizza, 311 Acadie Blvd., Dieppe, on May 4, between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre emergency department, 330 Université Ave., Moncton, on May 7, between 2-9:30 p.m., and May 6, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Saint John region:
Foodland, 1 Market Sq., Quispamsis, on May 3, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
My Home Consignment, 5 Acorn St., Fredericton — May 8 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., May 7 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., May 6 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., and May 5 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Sobeys, 1180 Prospect St., Fredericton, — May 8 between 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Lunar Rogue, 625 King Ave., Fredericton — April 28 between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Fix Auto, 156 Greenview Dr., Hanwell — May 6 between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., April 30 between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., April 29 between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and April 28 between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Lunar Rogue, 625 King St., Fredericton, on April 28, between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.
Fix Auto, 156 Greenview Dr., Hanwell, on May 6, between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., April 30, between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., April 29, between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and April 28, between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:
Fever above 38 C.
New cough or worsening chronic cough.
New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should:
Stay at home.
Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor.
Describe symptoms and travel history.