Nfld. & Labrador

No new cases as N.L. hits vaccination milestone in fight against COVID-19

Nearly 20 per cent of the province has had at least one dose of vaccine, according to Health Department data, pushing the population further toward its goal of herd immunity.

Nearly 30,000 more doses of vaccine on the way this week

Premier Andrew Furey, right, and Health Minister John Haggie celebrate the arrival of the first vaccine doses in Newfoundland and Labrador on Dec. 15. Four months later, one-fifth of the population has had at least one shot. (Andrew Furey/Twitter)

There are no new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday, four months after the first vials of vaccine touched down in St. John's.

More than 100,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have now rolled up their sleeves for a shot of COVID-19 vaccine.

Health Minister John Haggie announced the milestone Friday on Twitter, remarking that nearly one in five residents have received at least one dose. According to Department of Health data, as of late Saturday night, 110,047 doses had been administered, and 100,373 people have received at least one dose.

Hannah Wallace, a doctoral candidate studying immunology and infectious diseases at Memorial University, called the milestone a "fantastic start" to loosening COVID-19's grip.

But a 19.27 per cent vaccination rate — slightly higher than the national rate of 18.68 per cent — won't prevent the virus's harshest societal consequences.

"We need to reach this thing called herd immunity," Wallace said, "where enough people are vaccinated … that we're able to protect everybody else that's not able to be vaccinated."

That includes children under 16, for whom no available vaccine has yet been approved.

Herd immunity is a kind of tipping point, she explained: once enough people acquire the antibodies to fight a virus, its spread in the community as a whole peters out.

For the coronavirus, experts have projected that 70 to 80 per cent of a total population must be fully immunized to reach that point.

"This really emphasizes the need to continue to follow public health measures, because we're nowhere near that herd immunity," she said.

"Just because you've been vaccinated doesn't mean you can continue going on [with] your normal life. We don't know for sure that these vaccines prevent transmission of the virus. It's likely that they do, but it hasn't been concretely published in the literature."

The Department of Health pegs the number of residents eligible for a shot at 462,300. As of Monday morning, 144,700 doses have been shipped in, with nearly 30,000 more expected this week, according to the department's data hub.

To reach herd immunity, nearly all of the eligible population will require a vaccine. The province expects all adults to have at least one shot by July.

The Department of Health released this timeline on April 8 of when it expects to issue at least one dose to all eligible population groups. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

The Health Department hasn't yet released a timeline for full vaccination, but Ottawa has said it will acquire enough doses for that target by September.

"The light is there at the end of the tunnel," Wallace said. "We're getting closer to the end."

Eastern Health is now opening all of its COVID-19 vaccination clinics to everyone over 70 years old whether they have pre-registered for a vaccine or not. Residents in that age group no longer have to pre-register and are encouraged to book their appointment online with a personal email address, the health authority said in a media release Monday. Eastern Health said anyone who has problems booking an appointment online can call 1-833-951-3884 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Eligible residents will receive their first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, and if they are unable to make an appointment at the clinic of their choice, Eastern Health said there will be more clinics announced.

Eyes on Western Health cases

Amid vaccine optimism, worries are lurking on Newfoundland's west coast after a small cluster of new cases emerged last week.

The Western Health region has had seven cases reported since Friday, and health officials are still trying to find the source of one of them. 

One of those cases is a health-care worker who came into contact with colleagues, sending 13 Western Health employees into isolation.

As a result of the new cases, the health authority called for increased testing in the Corner Brook and north shore side of the Bay of Islands Monday morning, encouraging anyone who wants a swab to visit one of its clinics. Shortly before noon, Western Health announced that it was now fully booked for appointments.

Appointment slots quickly filled Monday for community testing in Corner Brook, after seven new cases emerged from Friday through Sunday. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

The case of a man in the Western Health region in his 50s, reported Friday, has been determined to be related to travel within Canada, the Department of Health said on Monday. Another case in the region reported Friday, a man in his 40s, remains under investigation. Elsewhere, a case reported Thursday in the Eastern Health region also remains under investigation.

With respect to the cases announced in the Western Health region on the weekend, Western Health is conducting broad community testing as part of the public health investigation. These clinics are now fully booked (April 12-14). The purpose of these clinics is to get a snapshot of possible transmission within the community. If further action is necessary, residents will be advised. People are encouraged to continue following all public health guidance.

Meanwhile, Eastern Health confirmed a positive case among its staff at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's on Friday. The health authority said fewer than 10 people, including staff and patients, at the hospital are in isolation in relation to that case. The health authority also said at the time that all test results so far have been negative. Contact tracing and testing was still underway as of Friday.

The province reported no new recoveries on Monday. There are 10 active cases in the province, with no one in hospital due to the virus.

To date, 126,932 people have been tested, including 241 in the last day. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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