Nova Scotia speeding up COVID-19 vaccinations; new target is late June

HALIFAX — Health officials in Nova Scotia are speeding up the province's COVID-19 vaccination program, saying all residents should get their first dose two months sooner than originally planned.

All Nova Scotians who want a vaccination should be able to get their first shot by late June, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang announced Friday. The original target was September.

"It's quite strange to be in Atlantic Canada these days," Strang said. "We are lifting restrictions while others are significantly locking down in other parts of the country."

The earlier target was made possible by the fact that science has changed regarding the maximum time limit between first and second vaccinations. With a longer gap possible, more people can get their first vaccination sooner.

"We'll move much more quickly through our priority age groups," Strang told reporters.

He also announced that as of Friday, Nova Scotians 65 years of age and older are eligible to receive their first dose — a big expansion of the eligible group.

Vaccination appointments for this group can be booked online at community clinics and participating pharmacy and primary care clinics that offer the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

Prior to the changes announced Friday, vaccination appointments were limited to people aged 70 and over. As well, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is still available for those 55 to 64 years old.

Health officials expected 40,000 doses would be administered this week and another 50,000 next week.

Nova Scotia has faced some criticism for placing last among the provinces in term of its vaccination rates.

Premier Iain Rankin said the province posted a record Thursday when 8,503 doses were administered, bringing the total to 138,348. As well, he said 96.2 per cent of health-care workers have received either one or two doses.

"Nova Scotia is a leader is this area," he told a COVID-19 briefing in Halifax. "And we are also a leader in long-term care vaccinations, with all (residents) expected to be vaccinated by the end of April with two doses."

The province reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including one case in the northern zone related to travel outside Atlantic Canada. The second case was reported in the central zone, which includes Halifax, and was under investigation.

Nova Scotia had 41 active reported cases as of Friday.

Noting that the majority of new cases in Nova Scotia have been related to travel outside Atlantic Canada, Strang announced some new guidelines.

The province is now "strongly recommending" COVID-19 testing for travellers who have arrived from outside the region and are still in isolation. These people should get tested within two days of their arrival and again when their isolation period is about to end, on Day 12, 13 or 14, he said.

As well, those exempt from the isolation requirements, including airline crew members and military personnel, should get tested three times, Strang said.

Meanwhile, there have been complaints that getting an appointment for a vaccination has become difficult, but Strang called for calm, saying appointment slots will be added as the vaccine supply increases.

"I'm encouraged that so many Nova Scotians want to get vaccinated, but I'm asking for patience," he said.

"We need to find the resolve and resilience to keep doing what is keeping us safe and making an example worldwide."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2021.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press