Nfld. & Labrador

Western, Central health regions hold 1st COVID-19 vaccinations as N.L. reports no new cases

The premier's office confirmed Friday afternoon that 17,000 doses should arrive in the province by the end of January, up from the 12,000 previously expected.

9 active cases in the province as of Friday

Registered nurse Jessica Rowsell receives a COVID-19 vaccine as inoculations began in the Central Health region on Friday morning. (Central Health/Twitter)

Newfoundland and Labrador's COVID-19 vaccination rollout is expanding, with inoculations now underway in two more health regions, and the equipment needed to store the vaccine is en route to the hospital in St. Anthony.

The premier's office also confirmed Friday afternoon that the province is getting more doses than previously thought: 17,000 total by the end of January — enough to vaccinate 8,500 people — up from the 12,000 originally expected.

Premier Andrew Furey learned of the increased shipment volumes Thursday night in a call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a spokesperson said. The number includes both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Both Central Health and Western Health began administering doses of the Pfzier-BioNTech vaccine to front-line health-care workers, with the authorities documenting the milestone on Twitter on Friday morning.

The Northern Peninsula — which lies under Labrador-Grenfell Health's jurisdiction — could see its first residents inoculated against COVID-19 in the first week of February. The health authority said Friday the Charles C. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony will receive an ultra-low freezer, necessary to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the proper temperature, in the next few weeks.

Once the freezer is ready, vaccines will be on their way and hopefully arriving the first week of February, although exact dates are hard to pin down, said Labrador-Grenfell Health's medical officer of health.

"Vaccine supply right now is extremely limited, and that's the biggest driver, along with the very complicated logistical requirements of this vaccine," Dr. Thomas Piggott said Friday morning.

Piggott said the Northern Peninsula's initial shipments will target the same priority groups as those in other parts of the province: front-line health-care workers, and long-term care and personal-care home residents and staff.

"It's really exciting that we are now on the cusp of really rolling this out, and I think and I hope that the rest of our entire region can just have some patience with us as we are doing that, because we are working extra hard to make sure that we do it fairly, and as fast as possible," he told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.

People on the Northern Peninsula have been concerned about the lack of updates on the vaccine, said Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald, since the only ultra-low freezer in Labrador-Grenfell Health is in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Seniors in particular are feeling the stress, she said.

"They're home, they're suffering in silence, because they're still scared. They're scared to go out," Fitzgerald said.

Labrador-Grenfell Health staff have a plan to administer the vaccine for the region based on current information,  said the health authority's regional director of population health.

"My staff is ready, indeed not just the regular staff in public health, but staff right across the organization, to get that where it needs to be in all areas across the greater Northern Peninsula," said Margaret Fry.

Another ultra-low freezer is also headed to Labrador City, Piggott said.

Vaccinations in the five coastal communities of Nunatsiavut will begin getting their vaccines from Labrador-Grenfell Health on Monday, with Innu Nation members set for the following week.

The premier's office said Labrador-Grenfell Health is also looking into the number of doses in each vial they've received. There may be 12 instead of the 10 initially thought, a spokesperson said in an email.

On Friday afternoon, the Department of Health reported no new cases of the disease for the third day running. 

Just over 230 people were tested since yesterday's update.

There are nine active cases of COVID-19 in the province, and one person in hospital. There have been 74,267 people tested for the virus since the pandemic began.

Friday's live briefing was cancelled earlier in the week, with an update set to come via press release. The next live briefing from officials on the province's COVID-19 response is set for Monday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning

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