N.S. to direct its first doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 50 to 64

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A health worker holds up a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at a vaccination centre in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2020.   (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse/The Associated Press - image credit)
A health worker holds up a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at a vaccination centre in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2020. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse/The Associated Press - image credit)

Nova Scotia will receive its first 13,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine next week, the province announced Wednesday.

The vaccine is the third approved for use in Canada. The other two are the Pfizer-BioNtech and the Moderna vaccines.

In a news release, the province said the launch of the new doses will be handled by Doctors Nova Scotia and the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

"We are pleased that conversations with Doctors Nova Scotia and the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia have resulted in a commitment from them to develop a plan by next week to distribute this vaccine to Nova Scotians," said Premier Iain Rankin in the release.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is given on a two-dose schedule. Since the shipment must be used by April 2, the province said all 13,000 doses will be administered as first doses to Nova Scotians age 50 to 64 starting the week of March 15 on a first come, first served basis. That will happen at 26 locations across the province, but those locations have yet to be announced.

When asked for further details, the province said more information will be available in the coming days.

Does not require ultra-cold storage

Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which require cold to ultra-cold storage, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine can be stored between 2 and 8 C, similar to a flu vaccine.

While the other two vaccines are more than 90 per cent effective against COVID-19, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is 62 per cent effective, based on clinical trials.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends the higher efficacy vaccines be offered first to those who are most at-risk for COVID-19. It recommends offering the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to people between the ages 18 to 64.

On Tuesday, the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, said his team was still trying to figure out how Nova Scotia might use the vaccine, given its limitations.

All provinces have to notify the federal government by Thursday whether they want to accept a shipment of AstraZeneca-Oxford, and Strang said at the time he had not yet decided how to advise the premier to respond.

That prompted Opposition leader Tim Houston to issue a statement that day criticizing the government's hesitation, saying "the need is too great for a province with the slowest rate of vaccinations in the country."

Following Wednesday's announcement, the Progressive Conservative leader issued another statement saying he was "glad to see that the new Premier has listened to concerned Nova Scotians and chosen to accept these 13,000 doses of vaccine."

"I hope that by the time future vaccines are approved by Health Canada, Premier Rankin will have a plan in place to be flexible and vaccinate more Nova Scotians," Houston said in the statement.

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