Province to delay second COVID shot for some so more people can get at least one dose
Less vulnerable could wait up to 90 days for second dose
New Brunswickers at lower risk of COVID-19 could wait up to 90 days for their second dose of vaccine against the coronavirus, even as the supply coming to Canada is set to increase in coming months.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell say with virus variants circulating, and studies showing a single dose provides good protection, they'll get first shots to as many people as possible by delaying second shots.
"This approach carries some unknowns but it is the one that is being increasingly used as an acceptable and manageable option," Russell said at a briefing Thursday afternoon.
"This is keeping with our goal to maximize the number of vulnerable people receiving at least one dose of the vaccine."
While the manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, recommend a second booster dose within 28 days of the first dose, some provinces are waiting up to 42 days to get initial shots to as many people as possible.
And some other countries including the United Kingdom are stretching that to 90 days. Russell says that could happen in New Brunswick for people "at lower risk of severe outcomes."
Russell and Shephard pointed to studies showing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer 90 per cent protection 14 days after the first shot.
But when asked by reporters, Russell couldn't provide a scientific basis for the 90-day delay. The federal government has told provinces that a 42-day delay for second doses is possible but has not recommended anything beyond that.
"This is a work in progress and we're going to continue to use our best evidence and our best information, knowing that there are some uncertainties and there are some unknowns. We don't actually have all the answers," she said.
"It's not perfect, and things have been changing constantly, so this is our best guidance that we can provide at this moment in time."
The announcement of the next phase of the province's vaccination plan came the same day the federal government said Canada will receive 2.8 million doses additional doses of Pfizer-BioNTech this spring. Those doses were due only in the summer.
That works out to 56,000 extra doses for New Brunswick arriving earlier than expected.
"You can see that we are now coming out this period of limited supply into an abundance of supply in spring and summer, where we can have a significant scaling up of immunization plans in provinces," said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading the federal rollout.
New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization director Greg MacCallum said that would translate to almost half a million doses coming to the province between April and June in total.
He said about half of all New Brunswickers should have received at least one shot by early July.
The accelerated shipments in the spring will allow New Brunswick to move up some groups who had been scheduled to be vaccinated in the summer.
The first phase of vaccinations, now underway, targets front-line health care and long-term care facility workers, long-term care residents, Indigenous adults and people older than 85. Shephard said First Nations clinics will be up and running by the end of March.
The April-to-June phase will include:
People over the age of 70, starting with those ages 80 to 84.
People with some complex medical conditions.
Adults aged 40 or older with at least three chronic medical conditions.
People in group settings, such as shelters and prisons.
People who have to cross borders regularly for work such as truckers.
Professionals such as dentists and pharmacists, and first responders including police and firefighters.
Volunteers in long-term care facilities.
Some of those groups "may not receive the second dose as quickly but this approach will provide a high level of protection to a larger number of people," Russell said.
In June, the rollout will extend to people with two chronic health conditions, health care workers who aren't in direct contact with patients, and high school and post-secondary students aged 16 to 24 as well as school staff.
Federal recommendations suggest including people who work in food production and grocery stores in the April-to-June phases but they were not included in New Brunswick's second-phase list.
"If more doses than expected do become available, we fully intend to re-adjust the plan again," Shephard said.
She said, by September, all New Brunswickers who want the vaccine should be able to get it.
New Brunswick is receiving 8,190 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week and next week will start receiving 9,360 doses per week through the end of March.
After that, shipments are expected to increase even more.
There are no specific weekly delivery numbers for the Moderna vaccine in New Brunswick beyond another 2,400 doses next week.
But Ottawa says it still expects to have received the company's promised two million doses for Canada by the end of March.
A total of 23 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are expected to be shipped to Canada from April to June.
Ottawa says 14.5 million Canadians will be vaccinated by the end of June just with those two vaccines. If three other vaccines are approved by federal regulators, that number would increase to 24.5 million people.