N.S. among provinces scrambling to adjust vaccination plans following Pfizer slowdown

·3 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia joined other provinces Tuesday in having to rapidly recast its plans to provide Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this month and next.

Provincial officials initially provided an estimate that it would have 13,500 fewer doses than expected over the next six weeks.

However, by mid-afternoon, chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang said that with Ottawa's announcement that Pfizer was shipping no vaccine next week, plans were underway to cope with a "substantive reduction in the weeks ahead."

The province had forecast, as of midday on Tuesday, that due to the slowdown it would receive only 16,575 doses of the vaccine from Pfizer's Belgium plant by the end of the month and 28,275 in February. An official later confirmed Nova Scotia would no longer be receiving the 975 doses of vaccine it had expected next week.

The federal government has said it's expected that the shipments will ramp back up after the company has made changes to its production facility in Belgium.

Nova Scotia public health officials say it is among the best positioned jurisdictions in the country to cope with the vaccine delays due to its low case counts of the illness.

As of Tuesday morning, the province has just 22 active cases, with four new cases of COVID-19 detected on Monday.

Asked about the Pfizer announcement's impact, Strang said the news was still fresh. "We'll be able to talk in more detail in the next few days about what our vaccine supply will mean for the next few weeks," he said.

However, Premier Stephen McNeil said the closure of a production line to allow for the increased production rate in the near future is "short-term pain for what we believe will be long-term gain."

"The lack of shipment will be made up in the following month and the next six months for sure."

The premier said the province will meanwhile focus on setting up vaccination sites in every region of the province.

"When Pfizer starts ramping up, or a new vaccine gets permitted by Health Canada, we (will) have a system that allows us to ramp up vaccinations very quickly across our province," he said.

The province had hoped to provide 78,750 vaccinations in March and then have a mass rollout of 333,333 doses in April at clinics in pharmacies and doctors offices.

Over the next month, the first wave of shots will go to health workers and long-term care staff and residents, along with a pilot project for African Nova Scotian and First Nations communities.

Special care homes for people with intellectual and physical disabilities will also have vaccinations for staff and residents.

The second phase, happening over the next 60 days, will include a pilot project for community clinics for residents over 80 years old in Halifax and Truro, more vaccinations of health workers and special care facilities and a pilot project for delivering vaccines at pharmacies.

The 90-day plan is to have mass immunization clinics established in all communities with cold storage locations.

As of Monday evening, about 2,200 Nova Scotians had received both vaccine doses, and 8,520 total doses had been administered from the province's supply of 23,000 doses.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press