Vaccination program on schedule in province, despite premier saying it could go faster
Higgs suggested earlier this week 'herd immunity' could take 10 weeks if vaccine was readily available
New Brunswick's COVID-19 vaccination rollout is unfolding as it was supposed to, despite Premier Blaine Higgs talking about a new timeline target during this week's spike in cases.
By next Monday the province will have administered 7,500 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, with thousands more on the way.
"We are on schedule with where we expected to be," spokesperson Shawn Berry said Wednesday.
On Tuesday Higgs said he would be "pushing" the federal government to deliver more vaccines to the province.
"The vaccine is here, but not in the quantities to allow us to vaccinate our population as needed," he said. "But it will be."
He said the province could vaccinate "up to" 45,000 people a week "at minimum," achieving herd immunity in 10 weeks, if it had enough vaccine.
"But on the current level of vaccines that will be deployed to our province, we will not be able to vaccinate our population to herd immunity until midsummer, late spring, midsummer," he said.
"We can do it so much faster. We, in fact, could ultimately do it in 10 weeks. But we need vaccines to do that."
Higgs didn't say whether he wants the vaccine supply chain to move faster or whether he wants some vaccine diverted from other provinces, where there have been reports of slow roll-outs.
The premier pushed last fall for Ottawa to distribute vaccines using a per capita formula and all premiers accepted that.
Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says Canada is due to receive 383,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the next two weeks and 170,000 doses of Moderna's.
And he says so far vaccines are being distributed ahead of the timeline that officials were expecting as recently as early December.
"It continually ramps up steadily right through the end of this month and into February," he says. "So far we have exceeded the planned deliveries."
Higgs's comments suggesting that herd immunity by mid-summer is an unacceptably long timeline came the same day 27 new COVID-19 cases were announced and all seven health zones were put under orange-phase restrictions.
Another 31 cases were announced Wednesday.
The "mid-summer" target for herd immunity is better than what provincial officials were floating last month when vaccines began arriving.
Expecting doses for 60,000
In December, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said it would probably be "a good 12 months" before all vaccines were rolled out and her goal was to get 75 per cent of the population done by September.
New Brunswick had received 11,175 doses of vaccine as of Wednesday. Berry says not including vaccine being held back for second booster doses, 99 per cent of doses "available for administration" have been administered.
The federal government said last month it would receive enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine for three million Canadians early in 2021 and distribute them per capita, putting New Brunswick in line for enough vaccine for 60,000 people.
"It's absolutely on track," LeBlanc says. "Our hope would be to work with Premier Higgs to exceed that."
Halifax epidemiologist Kevin Wilson, who tracks COVID-19 cases and vaccinations in each province, says with provinces still ramping up their distribution systems, he doubts Atlantic provinces could swiftly administer the volume of doses Higgs talked about Tuesday.
And he says so far the rollout in this region seems to be where it's supposed to be.
"There really hasn't been enough time to gauge whether anyone is failing spectacularly at this, and right now there's not really any sign that they are," he says.
"I will always be on the bandwagon of 'go faster, get those doses out the door' but I don't think it's gone especially poorly here. We're pretty much on target for what you would have expected, especially when you compare it to the other provinces."