Nfld. & Labrador

New case of COVID-19 reported, as Fitzgerald urges patience with vaccine delivery

The health minister and chief medical officer of health provided the last pandemic update for the week.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says administering the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines will take time. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, as the province's chief medical officer of health addressed expectations for the ongoing vaccine rollout.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said at Friday's COVID-19 briefing that regional health authorities are working to make sure vaccines are being administered "as expediently and efficiently as possible."

"It it unrealistic to expect that a shipment of vaccines is to be administered within a day or two of its arrival," she said.

Fitzgerald noted the regional health authorities have been able to administer their allotments within one week of the vaccines arriving in the province, which she calls "phenomenal" considering the planning and work involved.

She said she knows there is anxiety as people wait to receive an inoculation but she urged patience. 

"The vaccine will come, but, for now, continue to do your part in keeping COVID at bay as we do our part to vaccinate our population," Fitzgerald said. 

Health Minister John Haggie said vaccination figures provided by government and health officials are just a snapshot of how the rollout is going. 

For example, said Haggie, within an hour or two Thursday night the province went from delivering 91 per cent of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to having only delivered 51 per cent, simply because a delivery arrived.

"Our aim is to try and reduce the amount of time vaccines spend in the supply chain between arrival in the province and getting into someone's arms."

Watch the full Jan. 15 update:

But a production change is expected to have an effect on delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next three or four weeks. 

The company is temporarily pausing some of its production lines at the plant in Belgium where the vaccine is manufactured — and from where Canada receives its shipments — in order to expand them, meaning a reduction in the expected doses delivered, Haggie said. 

"What that means for Canada next week is that it will receive 195 trays instead of the 214 that were scheduled. The last week in January will be the worst, with only 25 per cent of expected trays being delivered. That's 41 for the entire country," he said.

The new case reported on Friday is a woman in the Eastern Health region, a resident of the province between 20 and 39 years old, is related to international travel and is the fifth case announced so far in 2021.

The woman is self-isolating and contact tracing is finished, according to the Department of Health. 

Across the country people have already received their second and final dose of vaccination. When asked if there are protocols in place in Newfoundland and Labrador for those who have received their second dose and want to travel to the province, Fitzgerald said evidence is still evolving surrounding disease transmission. 

"The public health measures that we have in place will remain in place until we have more information and we have evidence to support being able to lift those measures," she said.

The province now has five active cases, and one person is in hospital. 

In total, 75,973 people have tested, including 196 since Thursday's update. 

Election during pandemic 

Residents of the province are expecting an election call imminently. That means candidates will hit the campaign trail, including Premier Andrew Furey and Haggie. 

When asked how the province will manage its response to the pandemic, while also juggling an election, Fitzgerald said clinical decisions based on evidence will still be made, vaccines will still be administered and public health will still respond to new COVID-19 cases as need be. 

"Our policies are in place, we feel comfortable with them, so I think at this point we'll be carrying on with the status quo," she said. 

Vaccinations continue across the province, with doses set to be administered on the Northern Peninsula starting Monday. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Haggie said the daily media releases will continue to provide updates, and that Fitzgerald will be available on a weekly basis for live briefings. In the event of an emergency, he said, he still remains health minister, and Furey the premier. 

Notably absent from Friday's briefing was Furey, as election rumours continued to swirl into the afternoon.

When asked why Furey was not present, Haggie said he didn't know. 

"I only found out by accident shortly before this started. I checked back through Twitter and noticed it was only myself and Dr. Fitzgerald," he said. "So I know as much as you do."

"We will keep people informed, and we will plan to see you next week and who knows what the future holds," said Haggie.

Less than an hour after the briefing concluded, Furey headed to Government House, presumably to ask Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote to dissolve the House of Assembly. 

Vaccines for the Northern Peninsula

COVID-19 inoculations are set to reach another corner of Newfoundland and Labrador, with the first people on the Northern Peninsula to receive theirs Monday, according to Labrador-Grenfell Health.

Priority groups, including front-line health-care workers, long-term care staff and residents and personal-care home staff and residents, will be getting their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the health authority said in a release. That's quicker than the previously announced schedule; the health authority's previous timeline had vaccinations set to begin in St. Anthony in the first week of February. 

Vaccinations continue elsewhere in the province, with members of the Canadian Rangers being tapped to help deliver Moderna doses in Nain by transporting residents to the vaccination site.

The number of people vaccinated is updated weekly on Wednesdays. As of this past Wednesday, 5,291 doses of either type of vaccine had been given out.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Moore

Journalist

Mike Moore is a journalist who works with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

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