New Brunswick is developing a COVID-19 "de-escalation" plan, which will be made public next month, the chief medical officer of health revealed Wednesday.
"We definitely have in mind what happens if there are new outbreaks, et cetera, and how to approach that with respect to restrictions and control and containment," Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters during the COVID-19 briefing.
The plan will detail, for example, the province's approach to declaring outbreaks, "risk-stratifying" close contacts, testing and isolation requirements, she said.
The evolving situation with new variants of concern and variants of interest will also be taken into consideration, Russell said.
"So that work is ongoing and it will definitely play a role in our approach to going back to school in the fall."
As it stands, only children aged 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Canada. The province is awaiting recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, known as NACI.
For now, the province is focused on getting as many eligible New Brunswickers as possible fully vaccinated with two doses, said Russell.
"Vaccines are making a difference," she said. "By becoming vaccinated, you are making a difference."
New Brunswick reported zero new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the fourth time this month no new cases have been confirmed.
And the 10 active cases of COVID in the province is the lowest active case count the province has seen since last October, she said.
Of the 121 cases of COVID confirmed in June, just five were in people who were fully vaccinated, and no one fully vaccinated was admitted to hospital or died.
The vaccination campaign hit another milestone Wednesday, with more than 300,000 eligible New Brunswickers aged 12 and older now fully vaccinated.
After a lull over the holiday weekend, 14,743 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered Tuesday, including 13,259 second doses, which pushed the two-dose vaccination rate to 43.5 per cent, the COVID-19 dashboard shows.
With the 1,484 additional first doses administered, nearly 79 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have now had at least one dose.
The province's goal under the path to green is to have at least 75 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated by Aug. 2 and lift all Public Health restrictions, including masks, provided COVID hospitalizations remain low and all health regions remain at the yellow COVID alert level.
Some people may embrace an immediate return to normal, while others will be more comfortable with a different pace. - Dorothy Shephard, health minister
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said if vaccinations continue at the current rate, it's "very likely" the province will be able to move to the green phase by its target date.
Once the state of emergency mandatory order is lifted, the government will no longer be enforcing the current rules and restrictions.
Asked what restrictions there will be, if any, on New Brunswickers who choose not to get vaccinated but decide to travel outside of the province or Atlantic region, Shephard said she doesn't think the government has "entertained any."
"If Public Health feels that they need to offer us any advice, if there are situations that happen, then they certainly know that we're open to that. But right now, when we go green, we go green," she said, adding they will monitor the situation closely.
It will be up to businesses if they want to immediately return to pre-pandemic operations or if they prefer to do so gradually, she said.
"The same is true of individuals. Some people may embrace an immediate return to normal, while others will be more comfortable with a different pace."
For long-term care facilities, green will go into effect two weeks after the lifting of restrictions, she said, to protect the well-being and safety of vulnerable residents.
Several long-term care homes across the province have been hit by COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the pandemic.
Manoir Belle Vue, a special care home in Edmundston, Zone 4, for example, reported at least 89 infections as well as the death of nine residents related to an outbreak that was declared on Jan. 20 and lasted for 10 weeks.
The Department of Social Development is working with Public Health to develop specific guidelines and recommendations for long-term care facilities, Shephard said.
She's very pleased with the vaccination rate among long-term care workers, as of the last update to COVID cabinet committee members at the end of June, she said, but was unable to immediately provide those figures.
Sixteen long-term care facilities in the province still have less than half of their employees vaccinated, as of Monday, according to the Department of Social Development's website.
The Edmundston region, Zone 4, has nine per cent of its facilities with under-vaccinated staff, the highest amount in the province. The next highest is the Miramichi region, Zone 7, at seven per cent of its facilities.
On May 27, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch announced mandatory testing for unvaccinated workers in facilities where the vaccination rate is under 50 per cent. They must take a rapid COVID-19 test every other day, he said, citing unacceptably low vaccination rates.
People are eligible for a second dose once at least 28 days have passed since their first dose.
They are asked to bring a copy of the record of immunization they received after getting their first dose, a signed consent form and their Medicare card.
A series of mobile walk-in Moderna clinics is being held this week to make getting vaccinated more convenient and accessible, particularly the under-40 demographic whose vaccination rates are lower than others, possibly in part because they are busy, said the chief medical officer of health.
The clinics offering first and second doses include:
Paquetville — Centre des loisirs de Paquetville, 1086 du Parc St., Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saint Andrews — Town Hall parking lot, 212 Water St., Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Bathurst — Bowlarama, 2020 St. Peter Ave., Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Blacks Harbour — Fundy Arena, 6 Arena St., Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dieppe — Bowlarama, 476 Gauvin Rd., Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The first mobile walk-in clinic held Tuesday in the village of Grande-Anse in the Acadian Peninsula saw at least 119 doses administered, said Russell. "So that's encouraging."
Copies of immunization records available
New Brunswickers who have lost their immunization record may request a new copy by either contacting the pharmacy where they were vaccinated, or by contacting their local Public Health office if they were vaccinated at a regional health authority clinic.
A request to replace a lost record may take several days to process, Public Health advised.
Nearly 1,000 doses of AstraZeneca to be destroyed
Nearly 1,000 doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that New Brunswick received from the federal government will be destroyed because they expired before they could be used here or elsewhere, the Department of Health has confirmed.
A total of 960 have expired, said department spokesperson Shawn Berry.
"It is unfortunate that this vaccine cannot be used and it will be returned to the wholesaler for destruction as per Health Canada process," he said in an emailed statement.
Last week, Berry said the province had about 170 doses of AstraZeneca in stock that were expiring June 30 and another 950 doses that were set to expire May 31 but were extended by Health Canada until July 1,
At that time, the province had declined further shipments of AstraZeneca from Ottawa and was looking to give away some of the supply it had left, including the more than 1,000 doses that were about to expire.
The province had enough vaccine to offer second doses "if needed," Berry had said, with an additional 10,323 doses expiring at the end of August and 200 doses expiring at the end of October.
"In almost all cases, an mRNA vaccine is now being offered to New Brunswickers for their first dose."
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recently updated its recommendations for people who received AstraZeneca for their first dose to say an mRNA vaccine is "preferred" as the second dose and mitigates the rare risk of vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) — a condition that causes blood clots combined with low platelets, the committee said.
Two New Brunswickers have died from VITT after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. Two others also suffered blood clots following vaccination, but recovered.
On Wednesday, Berry did not clarify if the 160 doses of AstraZeneca used before they expired were administered to New Brunswickers or redistributed through the National Operating Centre.
"We are currently performing an analysis to confirm the number of AstraZeneca vaccine doses that will be required for second doses given that many are choosing to receive an mRNA vaccine as a second dose," he said.
"We are in discussions with the National Operating Centre to reallocate doses that are not required."
As for the mRNA vaccines, the province had 41,766 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech in stock, as of Monday, and 113,454 Moderna doses, said Berry.
People looking for Pfizer might have a harder time for the next couple of weeks. While New Brunswick received at least 49,000 doses of Pfizer each week in June, the province is scheduled to get 18,720 doses this week and 29,250 doses next week.
That is expected to increase to 64,350 doses the following week and 76,050 doses during the final week of July.
Nearly 227,000 doses of Moderna vaccine arrived in New Brunswick in June. No delivery is expected this week, but another 60,060 doses are expected next week.
"We have been getting more Moderna. That provides plenty of opportunity for New Brunswickers to get a second dose of mRNA vaccine sooner by choosing to take Moderna for their second dose," said Berry.
"Choosing to opt for the vaccine that is available to you soonest will help all New Brunswickers get full protection [as soon] as possible."
Pfizer and Moderna are "completely interchangeable" for people 18 or older, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, reiterated Wednesday.
"They work in the same way and are equally effective against COVID-19 separately or in combination with one another. If you had a Pfizer vaccine as your first shot, you can take Moderna as your second and vice versa. So I advise you to take whichever of these vaccines is most immediately available," she said.
2 people in hospital
Two people are in hospital with COVID-19, none in intensive care.
New Brunswick has had 2,336 confirmed cases of the respiratory disease since the pandemic began, with 2,279 recoveries so far and 46 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 366,232 tests have been conducted, including 565 on Tuesday.
There are no new public exposure notices. Previous public exposure notices can be found on the government of New Brunswick's website.
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and has 39 active cases.
Newfoundland and Labrador has no new cases, and 14 active cases.
Prince Edward Island has no new cases and two active cases.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms of the illness have included a fever above 38 C, a new or worsening cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, a new onset of fatigue, and difficulty breathing.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should stay at home, call Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor, and follow instructions.