Liberal opposition continue to criticize COVID-19 vaccination speed

·4 min read
Liberal health critic Jean-Claude d'Amours says the percentage of doses on hold continues to hover just below one-third of the total received. (CBC - image credit)
Liberal health critic Jean-Claude d'Amours says the percentage of doses on hold continues to hover just below one-third of the total received. (CBC - image credit)

Premier Blaine Higgs says now isn't the time to criticize the province's COVID-19 vaccination effort, a push that so far continues to lag behind most other provinces.

Higgs made the comments after the Liberal opposition again said the province is not moving fast enough to administer shots and is allowing stockpiles of vaccine pile up in the tens of thousands.

"I'm not going to start finding fault with the people who have got us this far," Higgs told reporters.

"I believe we will have a successful rollout. We have adequate resources to do that."

"I'm pretty comfortable that we'll have an outcome here that we all feel good about and the last thing I'm going to do is throw barbs at the people that are doing it for us. We can improve as we go and we will continue to do that."

Premier Blaine Higgs says the province has enough resources for a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Premier Blaine Higgs says the province has enough resources for a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout.( Joe McDonald/CBC)

In Question Period, Liberal health critic Jean-Claude d'Amours pointed out that the percentage of doses on hold continues to hover just below one-third of the total received, despite weeks of promises by the province that the pace is accelerating.

"When will the minister and her department ensure that New Brunswickers can get the vaccine and not put those doses on hold?" d'Amours said.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province has been administering the vaccines "as we receive them."

She acknowledged the province held back doses at first when it still planned to administer booster shots within weeks of initial shots, as vaccine manufacturers recommended.

But with a new plan to delay second doses for some groups up to 120 days to give everyone a first shot as soon as possible, Shephard said fewer doses will be held back.

"We are vaccinating at a very fast pace, and not only that, we are accelerating. … We are doing our job," she said.

She also claimed that New Brunswick is "probably one of the top provinces for having needles in the arms," an assertion not supported by experts tracking provincial rollouts.

Vaccine tracking by University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe and Halifax epidemiologist Kevin Wilson ranked New Brunswick ninth out of ten provinces for percentage of eligible people vaccinated as of Monday. Only Nova Scotia was lower.

New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says New Brunswick is administering vaccine doses as it receives them.
New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says New Brunswick is administering vaccine doses as it receives them.(Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Shephard did not speak to reporters Tuesday.

The provincial COVID-19 dashboard said on Tuesday that 7.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have had at least one dose.

The province had received 93,455 doses so far as of Tuesday's update, of which 64,352 had been used. That means 31.1 per cent of doses in the province have not been administered.

Those numbers change every day, and the province says its data on the number of shots administered can lag by up to 48 hours. Even so, the percentage of unused doses has remained above 30 per cent during most of March.

"I look at the national tracker too," Higgs said.

"I look at our report, and I'm saying, 'Okay, we need to get these lined up' because we know how many people that we have vaccinated so far, we know we're well on track to what we committed to in June and we know we can exceed that."

Vaccine efforts ongoing

The premier pointed out that 4,500 high school teachers and staff will get shots this week ahead of a return to full-time classes on April 12, a number he said has been added to this week's planned vaccinations without causing delays for anyone else.

But the province is scheduled to receive 41,000 doses of vaccine this week, the highest weekly delivery so far. Last week New Brunswick received more than 17,000 doses.

Last month Higgs said the province has the capacity to vaccinate as many as 80,000 New Brunswickers a week if it gets that much vaccine.

People aged 80 or older are now able to contact pharmacies for appointments and that will be extended to people aged 75 to 79 before the end of the month.

In the legislature Shephard pointed out that all long-term care residents and First Nations band members who wanted the vaccine have received their first shots.

Shephard said the Liberal questions will ring hollow in three months' time.

"When everyone gets their vaccine by the end of June, this conversation will be moot," she said.