Nova Scotia ramping up boosters as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Atlantic region

·3 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia on Thursday said it would ramp up its COVID-19 vaccine booster program, as the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus continued to drive high case counts in that province and elsewhere in Atlantic Canada.

Starting next week, Nova Scotia will accelerate its descending age-based approach for boosters to include those 30 years of age and older, Premier Tim Houston told reporters. Appointment for boosters opened for residents 50 and older last week.

"We have to shift the focus to boosting," Houston said. "We know being vaccinated protects people, especially against severe illness, and we know the booster provides increased protection."

The premier said that with an increased supply of vaccine expected in January, the province would add more booster clinics to supplement the work already being largely done by pharmacies. About 500,000 people aged 30 to 49 will become eligible for a booster in January.

Starting Jan. 6, the province will open a clinic at the Halifax Forum. Testing and vaccine hybrid clinics, meanwhile, will be added to the northern, eastern and western health zones by the middle of next month. Drop-in mobile outreach clinics will also be deployed to increase vaccination capacity where needed, the premier said.

But the government needs more people to help with its vaccination program, Houston said, because the health system is losing staff due to the high transmission rate of COVID-19 in the province, which is forcing workers into isolation.

"This is our biggest hurdle," Houston said. "If you are a retired nurse or doctor and are able to fill shifts … please put your hand up. The more people we get the quicker we can do this."

Health officials identified 511 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and said there were 5,106 active infections. A total of 7,594 cases have been reported over the last two weeks. Officials said 25 people were hospitalized with the disease, including three patients in intensive care.

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said that public health is closely monitoring hospitalizations.

"So far it's very low, about 0.5 per cent," Strang told reporters, referring to the percentage of cases that end up in hospital. "It is ticking upward but we're seeing a moderate rise, which gives some comfort but it's also not enough to relax at this point in time."

Strang said the speed of the highly infectious Omicron variant means the virus will move quickly through the population. What's important, he added, is slowing down the spread so the health system isn't overwhelmed.

In Prince Edward Island, chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison said that emerging evidence indicating the Omicron variant is relatively mild to moderate in its effects means that the virus in her province is beginning to transition from a "pandemic to endemic state."

"Meaning that there will be at some point stable transmission of this virus," Morrison told reporters.

The Island reported a single-day record of new COVID-19 cases Thursday, with 169 new infections. Morrison said the majority of new cases were related to travel or involved people who were close contacts of previously reported infections. She said the source of about 20 per cent of new cases was unknown, indicating community spread.

Morrison said the province has recorded more than 600 cases in the last week and has 680 active infections. Three people were in hospital because of the disease, while five other patients in hospital for non-COVID-19 reasons have tested positive.

Meanwhile, health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador reported 349 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, breaking Wednesday's one-day case record of 312. There were 1,428 active reported infections in the province and one person was in hospital with the disease.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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