Nfld. & Labrador

COVID-19 vaccines expected in N.L. in 'a couple of days,' premier says

One new travel-related case is being reported Monday in the Eastern Health region, as St. John's prepares to receive its first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

N.L. reports 1 new case in Eastern Health region, 'no evidence' of community transmission in Harbour Breton

Some 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador this week. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting one new case of COVID-19 on Monday, as the province prepares to receive its first vaccine shipments in the coming days.

"This is the start of a very exciting week," said Premier Andrew Furey during a government briefing Monday afternoon. Logistical dry runs of the vaccine shipment concluded last week, he said.

The new case, in the Eastern Health region, is travel-related, said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. The man is between 50 and 59 years old.

Fitzgerald noted the case is not related to a small cluster that emerged in Harbour Breton in recent days. 

The chief medical officer confirmed there's been "no evidence of widespread community transmission to date" in Harbour Breton, which has three cases of COVID-19 connected to its hospital. 

More than 500 people came forward for rapid testing in Harbour Breton, Fitzgerald said.

"We have not identified any additional cases beyond the existing three, which is very reassuring," she said.

A positive case announced Saturday in the Western Health region has also been retracted, as further test results were negative. Fitzgerald says that person did not have COVID-19 and testing has uncovered no evidence of transmission in schools or the community.

With a previously announced case now considered negative, the province has 22 active cases, with 358 total cases since the pandemic hit N.L. in March. There have been 332 recoveries and four deaths. As of Monday, 67,315 people in the province have been tested.

Furey eyeing vaccine fears

Canada's first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived Sunday. Newfoundland and Labrador is set to receive 1,950 doses this week, although the exact date they will be delivered to the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's has not been announced.

That means enough vaccine, initially, for 975 people, as each person requires two doses.

Furey and Fitzegerald said there's no set date or dosage amounts yet for a second shipment, nor any confirmation about a second vaccine from manufacturer Moderna.

That vaccine has not been approved in Canada, but is considered the furthest along in the regulatory process.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the person in charge of vaccine rollout across Canada, said the delivery schedule is "unfolding exactly as planned," the premier said.

"We're hoping, weather pending, that it'll be within the next couple of days," Furey said.

"Health-care teams are gearing up to be able to give the vaccine this week, if need be," Fitzgerald added. 

Health Canada authorized use of the vaccine for people over the age of 16 last Wednesday. The regulator concluded the vaccine was safe and approximately 95 per cent effective after a two-month review of the companies' clinical trial data.

However, Fitzgerald said certain populations shouldn't receive the shot: people who are immunocompromised, pregnant or breastfeeding were not included in large numbers in clinical trials. "That's not to say there will be an issue, we just don't have the evidence to support the use," she said.

The Health Sciences Centre in St. John's is one of 14 distribution sites for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Canada. (CBC)

The province is considering media access to the first inoculations to dispel fears over the vaccine, Furey said. "If this increases the public willingness to be vaccinated, dispels myths and settles fears ... then that's certainly things we're considering."

Furey opened the briefing with an appeal to the vaccine's study in Canada.

"We can all assure you that this vaccine has proper approval after a rigorous scientific review," he said, noting the "limited side effects" during clinical trials were similar to those of other common vaccines.

However, he said, people need to be aware of the vaccine's side-effect profile. Those can include pain at the injection site, chills and feeling feverish.

Fitzgerald noted one of the vaccine's ingredients, polyethelene glycol, is a known allergen. The substance is commonly used as a laxative and in an array of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, including skin creams and toothpastes.

"As with any vaccine, if you have an allergy to any of the components of that vaccine, then you should not get it," she said. "And that's true for any vaccine that is on the market at the moment."

Vaccine can't leave St. John's for now: Fitzgerald

The Health Sciences Centre in St. John's is one of 14 approved distribution centres in Canada. Fitzgerald said the initial shipment will remain there for the time being.

"Due to restrictions that have been placed on us by the manufacturer for this first round of vaccines … we're not able to move it from the point where we receive it," she said. 

"Because of that, we'll be targeting health-care workers … with that lot of vaccines."

The province's priority remains residents and staff of long-term-care homes, she said, ideally "in the first quarter" of 2021.

There were three new cases of COVID-19 reported in Newfoundland and Labrador on Saturday, all of them in the Western Health region. One of those cases has since been deemed inconclusive.

Fitzgerald said a massive rapid testing response that had been planned for that region will now be dialled back.

The province reported no new cases Sunday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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