HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's COVID-19 vaccination rollout is ahead of schedule and should see second doses being administered two to four weeks earlier than originally planned, officials said Tuesday.
The first people due for their booster shots — health-care workers and those aged 80 and older — will be able to move ahead their appointments beginning in early June.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang told reporters that if enough people move up their second dose appointments, the province could reach the required minimum level to get population immunity by early September.
"This is in our hands, so when the opportunity comes, get your appointment booked," Strang urged. "The sooner we get population immunity, the sooner we will be able to start our new normal."
Under the province's accelerated plan, someone who received their first dose of vaccine on March 22 and is due for a second dose on July 5 will now be able to reschedule their second appointment for as early as the week of June 20.
The plan will also allow people to book wherever appointments are available, meaning they won't be required to return to the location where they received their first shot.
For now the plan is based on the availability of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, because Moderna shipments have been unreliable. Officials added that people who received Moderna as a first shot can safely switch to Pfizer for their second.
The province is still waiting for more information from federal officials on whether the more than 58,000 Nova Scotians who received AstraZeneca can have one of the mRNA vaccines — Pfizer or Moderna — for a second dose.
Meanwhile, appointments for an initial shot were opened across the province Tuesday to people 20 years of age and older, and officials said vaccine appointments would likely be opened to those 12 and up by the end of the week.
The government said 53,540 people in the 20-to-24 age group are eligible to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
"Forty-eight per cent of Nova Scotians already have one or more doses, and another 130,000 appointments are booked over the next two weeks," Strang said.
Continuing the current pace would see the province reach its goal of fully vaccinating 75 per cent of the population by early September instead of late October he said.
Officials also announced further vaccination measures, including three drive-thru clinics to be running by the end of the first week of June in Dartmouth, Truro and Wolfville. The clinics are for people with mobility or sensory issues who are unable to access community, pharmacy or primary care clinics.
Home vaccination will also be made available early next month for people who can't leave their residence without significant assistance, such as those who are receiving home care, are on oxygen or are waiting for placement in long-term care.
Nova Scotia reported 54 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday. Thirty-five were identified in the Halifax area, 15 in the province's eastern zone, three in the northern zone and one in the western zone. The province has 846 active reported cases of COVID-19 and 72 people in hospital with the disease, including 20 in intensive care.
Over the Victoria Day long weekend, Nova Scotia's active case count dropped below 1,000 for the first time since May 3. The province has been under lockdown since April 28.
"We are seeing encouraging signs," Premier Iain Rankin said of an eventual reopening of the province. "But if we have learned anything in the last three waves, it's that we can't move too fast, because that is what can cause (virus) spread."
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press