Nova Scotia re-examining conservative approach to vaccinations as supply increases

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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia will re-examine its methodical approach to COVID-19 vaccinations as supply increases and medical advice changes, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said Tuesday.

The province has so far received 61,980 doses of vaccine and as of Monday, had administered 33,471 doses — 20,580 first doses and 12,891 booster shots.

Health officials have been holding back roughly half the shipments to be used as booster shots — a policy that follows recommendations by vaccine makers but also in large part made possible by Nova Scotia's low case numbers. Quebec, by contrast, has decided to vaccinate as many people as possible with one shot because it reports hundreds of new infections every day.

But Strang told reporters the province's approach could change pending new national recommendations on the interval between shots, which is expected Wednesday. Pfizer has said the second dose of its vaccine should be given within 21 days, while Moderna has set the date for the second shot at 28 days. Ottawa's National Advisory Committee on Immunization, however, has said the second dose of both vaccines can wait up to 42 days.

"What we are expecting is a significant increase in the time frame between first dose and second dose," Strang said. "What that means is that we can move away from our current process ... and we will be able to focus all our vaccine on first doses."

Doing so, he said, would double the number of people the province could vaccinate, something he described as "quite a game changer for us" as the government works toward its goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population by September.

British Columbia said Monday it would extend to four months the time between first and second doses of vaccine. Ontario has also said it was considering following suit.

Strang said his province has been offered an initial shipment of 13,000 doses of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been recommended for use on people between 18 and 64 years old. "These will expire in a month's time and therefore we would need to have a plan to use them immediately," he said. "We are actively looking at what is the best use of this AstraZeneca vaccine for Nova Scotia."

The province said it expected 56,160 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 30,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine this month, for a total of 86,660 doses. A total of about one million doses of vaccine is expected to arrive from April through June.

Health officials also said that vaccination rollout plans for this month include the province's first pharmacy clinics and an expansion of shots to community health-care workers.

Four prototype pharmacy clinics will launch in Halifax and Shelburne on March 9, Port Hawkesbury on March 16 and Springhill on March 23. People aged 80 years and over who were eligible to receive the vaccine through one of the first clinics will receive an invitation to get their shot from their pharmacy.

The vaccination program is also expanding to include anyone who works in a hospital and may come into contact with patients, as well as health-care providers in the community, such as doctors, nurses and continuing-care assistants.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia reported one new case of COVID-19 on Tuesday and seven cases of virus mutations resulting from previously reported cases. The variant cases included two that are the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, and five that are the 501.V2 mutation, originally identified in South Africa.

Nova Scotia has reported a total of eight cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and six cases of the South African mutation. "At this point, there is no indication that we have community spread from either of these clusters of variant cases," Strang said.

Nova Scotia has a total of 29 active reported infections.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press