The Nova Scotia government aims to vaccinate three-quarters of Nova Scotians against COVID-19 by the end of September, senior health officials said Tuesday.
Between now and June, more than a million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive in the province, Premier Stephen McNeil said during a news briefing Tuesday, enough to vaccinate "more than half of our population."
So far, Nova Scotia has received 9,550 doses. 2,720 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have been used on health-care and long-term-care workers, 2,720 are being reserved for their second doses, and 3,700 Moderna doses are being reserved for three long-term care facilities: Northwood's Halifax campus, Shannex's Parkstone Enhanced Care, and Ocean View Continuing Care Centre.
The province has split its vaccination plan into four phases, according to the province. "Phase 0" included testing the delivery, distribution and administration of the vaccine in December.
The first phase, between January and April, when there is still limited supply, will involve increasing vaccination rates and testing delivery models to support the second phase of the plan.
The aim is to vaccinate all staff and residents in long-term and residential care, adults 75 years old or older, and health-care workers in direct patient care. About 140,000 doses are expected by the end of March, enough to immunize 75,000 people.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said the province will use Phase 1 to evaluate and test a number of different vaccine delivery models, so they can be sure they are able to deliver larger amounts of vaccine in the second phase.
"Our goal is to vaccinate as quickly as possible with the product that we will be receiving, but we need to acknowledge and understand that this is by far the most complex vaccine program that we have ever implemented," he said.
The second phase, which begins in May, aims to ramp up vaccine distribution and expand service-delivery models. Nova Scotia is expected to receive about one million doses of vaccines during that phase.
The target groups of the second phase are all remaining health-care workers and "essential workers," which are still being defined. Officials also plan to add more community clinics.
At that point, Strang said the province will aim to be able to vaccinate as many as 10,000 people each day.
"When we get much larger amounts of vaccine in Phase 2, we're not trying to figure out how to deliver that. We've done all that work in Phase 1," said Strang.
New vaccination clinics
Lastly, the third phase, beginning in the summer, will involve continuing vaccinations at a larger scale, where all remaining Nova Scotians will be vaccinated. The expected number of doses is unknown at this time.
There are currently five cold storage sites for the vaccines, in Halifax, Cape Breton, Colchester, Kentville and Yarmouth. The province intends to create three more in February as more doses arrive.
New vaccination clinics will begin in several parts of the province this month, according to the province. The Cape Breton Regional Hospital and Valley Regional Hospital will each receive 1,950 doses this week, with clinics starting on Jan. 11.
Colchester East Hants Health Centre will receive 2,925 during the week of Jan. 11, with a clinic starting the next week. And vaccinations at the Northwood, Parkstone and Ocean View long-term care facilities will also begin this month.
Three new cases of COVID-19
In a release, the province reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, for a total of 19 active cases.
All new cases are in the central health zone and one is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The other two are under investigation.
None of the cases are related to Churchill Academy in Dartmouth. A total of seven cases have been connected to the private school. The last day of classes at the school was Dec. 18 and the school does not plan to reopen until Jan. 11.
Nova Scotia Health Authority labs processed 1,045 tests on Monday.
During Tuesday's news conference, McNeil said he was encouraged by the low number of new daily cases.
"We are so close, now that we are seeing a regular shipment of vaccine. We cannot — I repeat, we cannot — let up now," he said. "So let's do what we've been doing for the last 10 months. Let's follow the protocols, focus on keeping each other safe, and continue working together to combat COVID."
The low case numbers mean that some things are beginning to reopen. Bars and restaurants were able to reopen to in-person dining on Monday, and the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation said on its website that all NSSAF activities may restart on Jan. 11, provided COVID-19 guidelines are followed.
The release from the province also said it will begin to report the number of vaccines administered on a weekly basis, beginning Tuesday.
According to a technical briefing earlier in the day that was not for attribution, officials said the province is not providing the new numbers daily for now because there may be some circumstances where the information won't be entered into the system in real-time, so it would be difficult to provide an accurate daily count.
Also Tuesday, Dalhousie University confirmed a case of COVID-19 in its residence community. A memo posted to the school's website said the student sought testing at the onset of symptoms and is now in self-isolation.
"Public Health has informed Dalhousie that the potential exposure risk in this case is low," the memo said. "Any residence spaces accessed by this individual have undergone additional cleaning and sanitization, and Public Health has not identified any campus locations for an exposure notification at this time."
The memo also said the case is a reminder of the importance of following COVID-19 protocols.
Spike in New Brunswick
On Tuesday, New Brunswick reported 27 new cases of COVID-19, the largest single-day increase in the province.
McNeil said people from other Atlantic provinces are still permitted to enter Nova Scotia without the 14-day self-isolation period, noting that some of the regional hospitals provide services to people in other parts of Atlantic Canada.
He said he will continue to monitor the situation.
While the other Atlantic provinces are still able to enter Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador imposed restrictions and self-isolation rules for travellers after the so-called "Atlantic bubble" burst in November.
Atlantic Canada case numbers
The latest COVID-19 numbers from the Atlantic provinces are:
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