Nova Scotia prepares for big jump in COVID-19 vaccine deliveries

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Nova Scotia’s first allotment of COVID-19 vaccine was unloaded in Halifax on Dec. 15. It contained 1,950 doses. (Nova Scotia - image credit)
Nova Scotia’s first allotment of COVID-19 vaccine was unloaded in Halifax on Dec. 15. It contained 1,950 doses. (Nova Scotia - image credit)

Doses of COVID-19 vaccine will pour into Nova Scotia next week in numbers greater than anything the province has seen so far.

Between shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, Nova Scotia is expecting more than 50,000 doses, marking a significant jump compared to any week in the past three months.

Shipments arriving the week of March 22 alone will make up more than one third of the total doses allocated to Nova Scotia since the start of the vaccine rollout late last year.

Asked Tuesday if the province is ready to handle the influx, Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, said, "absolutely."

"You'll see a significant growth, and we'll have more details to come in the next week or two on the number and location of especially pharmacy and physician clinics across the province," Strang told reporters at a COVID-19 briefing.

Dr. Robert Strang says reliable supply is the only rate-limiting factor in making the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines available to every Nova Scotian by the end of June.
Dr. Robert Strang says reliable supply is the only rate-limiting factor in making the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines available to every Nova Scotian by the end of June.(Communications Nova Scotia)

Unlike some other Canadian provinces, Nova Scotia has been holding back doses of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure second doses are available for everyone who gets a first shot, but that practice is changing.

With the release of new national immunization guidelines earlier this month, Nova Scotia is starting to space out doses by four months instead of two or three weeks. Some second doses are still being reserved in freezers to honour appointments that were booked before the guidelines changed, but Strang said once all those go out, the perceived lag in getting shots into arms will shrink.

"Whatever we get in one week will be used in the next week. So there won't be vaccines sitting around, it'll be delivered in a very timely manner."

Supply still the rate-limiting factor

The number of vaccine doses arriving weekly is expected to remain high into the spring and summer, but Strang emphasized there are no guarantees.

"Our biggest challenge," said Strang, "is can we get the vaccine?"

Ottawa confirms vaccine allotments in two-week blocks. There are projections that go much further than that — like Nova Scotia getting one million doses between the start of April and the end of June — but those numbers are not a sure thing.

"Everything we've built on, including our end goal statement — which is that we expect every Nova Scotian who wants to get a vaccine will have their first dose by end of June — that is ultimately based on the premise that we're gonna get the supply of vaccine that's projected to us from the federal government," said Strang.

13,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine have to be administered before they expire on April 2.
13,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine have to be administered before they expire on April 2.(Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

Final piece of the vaccine clinic puzzle

The province currently has eight vaccine clinics for health-care workers, and has sent vaccines into 34 long-term care facilities and every First Nation community. By next week, there will be 10 community clinics and more than two dozen pharmacies and doctors offices delivering vaccines.

Strang said the number of community clinics is set to grow "significantly," as will the number of pharmacies and primary care clinics equipped to deliver shots.

The first mobile vaccination unit is scheduled to roll out in Halifax starting in early April, targeting homeless shelters. Strang called mobile units "the final piece in our vaccine delivery puzzle."

"Once we have have worked through the shelters and learned how we use those effectively in the shelters we'll look at how to use them for specific populations where access is a significant issue," he said.

Public health officials have said 70 per cent of the population has to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. As of Tuesday's reporting, about 33,000 Nova Scotians had received at least a single dose — a little over three per cent of the population.

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