Nova Scotia premier defends conservative vaccine rollout, voices supply concerns

·3 min read

HALIFAX — The interruption in the supply of COVID-19 vaccine justifies Nova Scotia's conservative distribution strategy, Premier Stephen McNeil said Tuesday.

McNeil defended the province's immunization plan to hold doses back for booster shots, and he voiced concerns about the ongoing availability of vaccine. "We have serious concerns about supply," he told reporters. "We had hoped that we wouldn't be in this situation but we will not be receiving any new doses this week."

The premier said vaccinations will continue at some long-term care homes because the province had put doses in reserve for booster shots. As of Monday, 11,622 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the province, with 2,708 people having received their second of two doses.

McNeil acknowledged the criticism about his government's approach of holding back doses. Quebec, by contrast, decided against that strategy and instead vaccinated as many people as possible with a single dose. The premier, however, said his main concern has been around the consistency of vaccine supply.

"We want to reassure all Nova Scotians that if we give you the first shot you will get the second shot," McNeil said. "Until we see a level of consistency in supply, that's the protocol we are going to continue to follow."

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said Nova Scotia would get no vaccine this week from Pfizer and then 1,950 doses the week of Feb. 1, along with another 5,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

"Beyond that there is no certainty around the amount of vaccine, whether its Pfizer or Moderna, that we are going to get," Strang said.

Strang, however, said the province remained committed to its strategy. He said Nova Scotia feels less pressure compared to other provinces to vaccinate the largest amount of people as quickly as possible.

Nova Scotia reported one new case of COVID-19 Tuesday and a total of 11 active reported infections. No one was in hospital with the disease.

Strang said science is also solidly behind the approach of giving two doses of vaccine within the 21-to-28-day window prescribed by the manufacturers.

Over the next three months, he said, the province will continue to focus on vaccinating front-line health-care workers as well as staff, residents and designated caregivers in long-term and residential care facilities.

To date, Strang said, vaccinations have been completed at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax, where 53 of the provinces 65 deaths occurred last spring. He said vaccinations are also complete at Ocean View Continuing Care Centre in Dartmouth and at Harbourstone Enhanced Care in Sydney.

As well, Strang said the province is targeting mid-to-late February to open its first community clinic, which he said will be at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, for people over 80 years of age.

"These are community clinics that will help us understand what works and what doesn't work, so when we are ready to administer large quantities of vaccine we are able to do so immediately," Strang said.

Meanwhile, health officials urged post-secondary students in the Halifax area to get tested for COVID-19. They said several cases of COVID-19 had been identified among Halifax's student population, and they recommended that all students be tested — even if they haven’t travelled, have no symptoms or haven't visited a location that had been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Drop-in testing began Tuesday and at Dalhousie University and pop-up rapid testing was scheduled to begin Wednesday at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., and at two locations in Sydney, N.S., including Cape Breton University.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 26, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press