'Thank God,' says N.L. premier upon announcing first doses of COVID-19 vaccine to arrive next week
Province will not rejoin Atlantic bubble for at least another month
Newfoundland and Labrador, one of 14 vaccine distribution sites across the country, will get 1,950 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine next week.
They will be distributed from the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's, and more doses will come after that.
"Thank God," said Premier Andrew Furey, who announced the development at the start of Monday's COVID-19 briefing.
"This is big news for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."
The 14 vaccine distribution sites across the country were named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just an hour before the provincial COVID-19 briefing began.
Trudeau said up to 249,000 doses of the two-dose vaccine will launch a mass inoculation campaign, which is expected to take many months to complete.
Trudeau said these doses will be delivered by the company directly to 14 distribution centres now equipped with the necessary cold storage. This particular vaccine must be stored at –80 C, which will make the logistics of distribution "incredibly complex," Trudeau said.
A dry run
Furey explained Monday that the province is taking part in a logistical dry run of distributing the vaccine.
Two thermal shipping containers, containing dry ice and not the vaccine, will arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador later this week.
The dry run, or so-called practice run, being run by the Public Health Agency of Canada, is aimed at ensuring that the vaccine can be delivered and then stored appropriately so doses are not wasted.
There will be a trial of the freezer being shipped "to ensure [the vaccine] can actually be shipped and received here," said Furey.
"That's kinda a test to ensure that the vaccine again can be stably shipped here and then transported to Health Science Centre with appropriately checking the temperature along the way and the stability along the way."
Furey cautioned that the fight against the virus is not over.
"Hope is on the horizon … [but] we are not there yet," he said.
Who gets it first?
There isn't a hard and fast list of who will get the vaccine first in the province, said Furey.
He said the N.L. vaccination task force announced last Friday was working on logistics but Trudeau's details on the first doses are "new news to us that it's coming this quickly."
But Furey pointed to the guidelines from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization when it comes to who gets the vaccine first. Last week, the committee said the limited initial quantity of doses should be reserved for people who are most at risk of contracting the virus and developing severe symptoms — elderly residents of long-term care and assisted-living facilities, retirement homes and chronic-care hospitals, and the staff who care for them.
After long-term-care residents and staff are immunized, NACI said, the next priority group should be all Canadians over the age of 80.
When asked if rotational workers would be considered a priority group to get the vaccine, Fitzgerald echoed Furey, saying the elderly and high-risk groups are the priority, and who is next in line is still being discussed.
"As we proceed through the vaccine rollout over the coming months, those are all questions we will be addressing at that time," she said.
Partly because it's not clear how many doses are coming — or when — said Fitzgerald, when it comes to what a provincewide vaccine rollout will look like, "a plan is not set in stone."
Since the vaccine is being distributed from the Health Sciences Centre, will only people in the St. John's metro area be eligible to get the first doses of the vaccine?
That won't be the case, said Fitzgerald, though there are some factors at play with the first batch of 1,950 doses.
"We have to follow some specifications that the manufacturer has asked us to follow," she said, noting that she can't disclose those details at this time.
"But once we are we will certainly be quite transparent about how we are distributing that vaccine."
The vaccine requires two doses per person, and Health Minister John Haggie said his department will use the electronic system to keep information and appointments for second doses that is being used for the flu shot vaccine.
Bubble still burst
In his opening remarks Monday afternoon, Furey also said that Newfoundland and Labrador would not rejoin the Atlantic bubble for at least the next month.
That means anyone arriving from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island will have to continue to self-isolate for 14 days.
Furey said the rationale for remaining out of the bubble is to ensure the health of people in the province, but also to take other steps to avoid a lockdown.
He pointed to sweeping new restrictions announced in P.E.I. on Sunday night and said, "We don't want to go there."
While N.L. has no new recorded cases of COVID-19 on Monday, the source of two cases identified in Harbour Breton is still unknown, prompting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald to urge extra precautions.
With files from Stephanie Kinsella