Province walks back minister's suggestion to divert vaccine from slower provinces

·3 min read

The New Brunswick government is walking back a suggestion from Health Minister Dorothy Shephard that COVID-19 vaccine doses in provinces with slow rollouts could be diverted to this province.

Shephard told CBC's The House that New Brunswick could vaccinate more people quickly if more vaccine doses were available.

In an interview taped last Thursday, she said this was unlikely, unless Ottawa gave New Brunswick more vaccines that were destined for provinces that haven't been able to administer theirs quickly.

"I'm not expecting that we're going to get more vaccine, unless perhaps it could be justified that if other provinces can't use it, let's get more done as soon as possible where we can."

Shephard said "those discussions are ongoing" and it would come up later that day in a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial health ministers. She said she was "hoping we'll hear some more word on that."

On Monday, Health Department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said that the minister had been "talking hypothetically" and has said during federal-provincial-territorial meetings that she "supports the per capita allotment."

Shephard was not made available for an interview.

Last week Premier Blaine Higgs said New Brunswick could vaccinate 45,000 people per week if it had enough supply.

Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick
Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick

He said he would be "pushing" for more, though he didn't say whether he wanted Ottawa to speed up the shipments from manufacturers or to reallocate the existing volume of doses.

The premier pushed in the fall for Ottawa to distribute vaccines using a per capita formula, and all premiers accepted that.

Last Thursday, Higgs told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton that the province was "getting our percentage" consistent with the per capital formula.

"The big unpredictability here is the timing of delivery and the amount, and because of that we aren't able to plan. But we didn't blame that on anyone. We know what the federal government is going through, trying to access vaccines."

Provincial spokespersons said last week that New Brunswick's COVID-19 vaccination roll-out was "on schedule with where we expected to be."

Data complied by Halifax epidemiologist Kevin Wilson shows New Brunswick has been fourth fastest among Canadian provinces in getting doses it receives into people's arms.

The province is behind Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, but ahead of all others, though the numbers fluctuate every day.

Ontario's Ministry of Health would not comment on the idea of diverting vaccines but spokesperson Christian Hasse said the province will have exhausted its first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of this week.

"We need the federal government to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible to keep up with Ontario's capacity to administer, which continues to increase every day," Hasse said in an email.

Shephard told The House that the volume of vaccine being shipped to New Brunswick now is making it possible for the province to co-ordinate getting it to patients.

"The number of doses we're getting … it gives us time to manage that," she said.

She also said she is confident everyone in New Brunswick will be vaccinated by fall.

"We need patience. … We see light at the end of the tunnel."

New Brunswick's vaccine numbers

As of Monday, 7,700 New Brunswickers had received vaccine, including 1,862 who have had the required two doses. The province is holding back 3,443 doses as second shots.

The federal government said last month it would receive enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine for three million Canadians in the first quarter of 2021 and distribute them per capita, putting New Brunswick in line for enough vaccine for 60,000 people by the end of March.

Last week federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said that target remains "absolutely on track."

On Monday, Ottawa published a vaccine delivery schedule forecast for each province that shows shipments accelerating in February.

According to the schedule, New Brunswick is expected to have received 45,825 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 11,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine by Feb. 28.