(Dado Ruvic/Reuters - image credit)
New Brunswick has received only about 59 per cent of the COVID-19 vaccine doses it was expecting, forcing the Department of Health to revise its rollout plans, says a spokesperson.
"A month ago, estimates we were provided had our province receiving more than 43,000 doses by now," Shawn Berry said in an email.
As of the beginning of this week, the province had received 25,850 doses, he said.
On Friday, department officials confirmed some of the province's pending vaccine shipment will now be diverted to Northern Canada. How much and when isn't clear.
The province had been expecting 8,190 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week, and 9,360 doses weekly through the end of March, Berry said. He was still awaiting final confirmation of Moderna vaccine numbers for March.
"Staff have been reviewing our vaccine rollout plan to determine how best to manage recent reductions, adapt to those shortages and respond to the threat posed by new variants," said Berry.
New Brunswick has four confirmed cases of the variant first reported in the U.K. — one in the Moncton region (Zone 1), two in the Saint John region (Zone 2) and one in the Miramichi region (Zone 7). All are related to travel.
The variants are between 30 and 80 per cent more contagious than the virus that has caused most New Brunswick infections, according to Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease specialist and pandemic task force member.
Variant may require more vaccines
On Thursday, Dow said the variants will spread exponentially and more New Brunswickers may need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity than previously thought.
Herd immunity is when having a certain proportion of the population vaccinated protects others who aren't immunized.
Although officials don't know what percentage is required for COVID-19, they were aiming for 70 per cent.
Dow said based on the experience of Manaus, Brazil, which has a new epidemic from the variant, 70 to 75 per cent is not enough for herd immunity because the city had an infection rate of 75 per cent during the first wave.
Berry said health officials will provide more details about the updated vaccine rollout plan "in the coming weeks."
"Our plan is of course contingent on receiving the number of vaccines we expect," he said.
Manitoba makes deal to buy its own
Earlier this week, Manitoba became the first province to procure its own vaccine supplies, which up until this point has been solely a responsibility of the federal government.
Manitoba announced it made a deal with Calgary-based biotechnology company Providence Therapeutics to buy two million doses of a Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine in development, on the condition it gets approved for use in Canada and is delivered by the end of the year.
"We can't do our job if the federal government isn't doing its job," said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, referring to the availability of vaccines to the province as the "No. 1 limiting factor" in immunizing its population.
The federal government has said it has spent more than $1 billion to secure millions of vaccine doses from seven suppliers, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Vaccines from the remaining five suppliers are still pending Health Canada approval.
Ottawa has said it expects all Canadians who want to be vaccinated will be immunized by the end of September.
Saskatchewan shortage affects health workers
New Brunswick's revised rollout plan will "give a better idea of the order and criteria of priority groups," said Berry.
Saskatchewan dropped most health-care workers off its priority list for the vaccine this week because of supply shortages. Most of them will now be given the same priority as the general public.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said his government has heard concerns from health-care workers about the vaccine distribution plan. He has also heard from other groups, such as police officers and teachers.
"Our officials are now working on any revisions that may be necessary to potentially include some additional categories of health-care workers in Phase 1," he said.
In recent weeks, New Brunswick health officials have referred to wanting to have all residents and staff of long-term care homes vaccinated by the end of March, with the priority given to those over 85.
The province has previously said the first phase of vaccinations will target four groups — long-term care residents and staff; health-care workers with direct patient contact, all adults in First Nations communities, and older New Brunswickers.
The second stage, currently slated for the spring on the province's "vaccine rollout" website, is expected to target residents and staff of "communal settings," such as homeless shelters and correctional centres, health-care workers, including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure workers.
The third stage, scheduled for the spring or summer, simply states: "Vaccine to be more widely available."
The province says it's basing its approach on the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
It lists these key populations to be immunized first: nursing home residents and staff, health-care workers, older seniors, and adults in Indigenous communities. But all of those groups are already listed in previous phases.
"As eligibility is expanded, information will be provided to indicate how individuals in those groups can register to receive the vaccine," the website states.
According to New Brunswick's COVID-19 dashboard, 18,643 doses of the vaccine have been administered, as of Monday, the most recent figure available. Of those, 5,347 people have received their second dose and are fully vaccinated.
The province has held 7,207 doses in reserve for second doses and for planned clinics, according to the website.
Five new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Friday and 10 more recoveries, leaving a total of 156 active cases of the respiratory disease across the province. Six people are hospitalized, and two are in intensive care.
New Brunswick has seen 1,382 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March. There have been 1,203 recoveries and 22 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 215,879 tests have been conducted.