HALIFAX — Nova Scotia released preliminary figures on Friday indicating a significant number of public sector workers were vaccinated against COVID-19, but officials said they needed a clearer picture on compliance ahead of the Nov. 30 deadline.
Premier Tim Houston said Friday the initial numbers are encouraging. The mandate applies to workers such as hospital and long-term care staff, physicians, paramedics and teachers.
Houston, however, told reporters it was unclear how many people in each sector were vaccinated but hadn't reported that fact yet to their employers. There were no numbers available for employees who had refused to get the vaccine.
"The priority now is to track down and identify workers that employers haven't heard from to determine their actual vaccination status and ... their intentions," the premier said. "Employees who have not reported will have to take a mandatory education program."
Houston said unvaccinated employees subject to the mandate will be suspended without pay after the deadline, but he stressed that they will have a path back to work if they change their minds and get vaccinated.
"If they are willing to be vaccinated, we will work with them to help them take that step," he said.
Provincial figures indicated that 91 per cent of workers who responded to a survey at Nova Scotia Health Authority facilities were fully vaccinated, while that number was 99 per cent for those who work at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. Ninety-nine per cent of paramedics who responded were vaccinated, as were 97 per cent of teachers and others who work in education.
Respondents who work in home care were 89 per cent vaccinated, while employees in long-term care centres were 93 per cent vaccinated.
Earlier this week, the province announced an eight-week grace period for workers who show proof of partial vaccination by Nov. 15. and who intend to get a second dose. Those workers will not be placed on unpaid leave, but may be subject to temporary health and safety measures before they are fully vaccinated.
Officials reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, pushing the number of active cases to 220. There were nine people in hospital with the disease, including one patient in intensive care.
Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said the recent rise in cases is due mainly to clusters in the province's western and northern zones. Strang said the clusters are the result of members of several faith groups who recently participated in a multi-day event he didn't identify.
"We are now seeing further spread within each of these faith group communities," he said. "The majority of the cases involved have remained unvaccinated."
Strang said the groups have been following isolation and testing requirements and there has been no indication of the virus spreading to the broader community.
Meanwhile, he said the province would begin offering booster shots to several groups by the end of the month. They include people 80 and older, followed by those in their 70s.
The shots will also be available for adult front-line health-care workers who were double vaccinated with an interval of fewer than 28 days between their first and second doses, and people who received two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine or with one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Officials said 83.3 per cent of the province's population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 78.8 per cent is fully vaccinated.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press