Nfld. & Labrador

Vaccines in N.L.: The plan, the numbers, and the goals

The province expects more than 96,000 expected doses to land in the province by mid-April, which Health Minister John Haggie says can be delivered by regional health authorities "without too much of a challenge."

Province to receive all four approved vaccines in coming weeks

Health Minister John Haggie says the province will receive more than 96,000 COVID-19 vaccines by mid-April. (CBC)

After weeks of supply delays, the effort to inoculate Newfoundland and Labradorians is ramping up, with more kinds and amounts of vaccines en route to the province and public health officials revamping the vaccination program with the end goal of vaccinating 380,000 people by June.

Amid all the changes, it's easy to get lost in vaccine updates. Here's what Newfoundland and Labrador is set to receive and when.

The province expects more than 96,000 doses to arrive by mid-April, which Health Minister John Haggie said Monday can be delivered by regional health authorities "without too much of a challenge."

Within the next month, Newfoundland and Labrador will receive doses from each of Canada's four approved COVID-19 vaccines: 7,000 doses of the recently approved AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine are scheduled to arrive by Sunday.

That will be followed by 18,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine by Mar. 28, along with 71,370 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by April 18.

The province will also receive the newly approved single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which should be available in April. Haggie said he is "cautiously optimistic" public health can get their hands on more doses as time goes by.

"We have the capacity we believe to deliver a significantly greater number," he said during Monday's COVID-19 briefing.

What are the differences?

Each vaccine headed to Newfoundland and Labrador is approved by Health Canada and protects against the coronavirus, but they are not created equal. While most require two doses, the vaccines vary in terms of effectiveness, as well as how they should be stored.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first vaccine approved, in December. It requires two doses and must be stored at incredibly low temperatures — between –60 C and –80 C — although its makers have applied in the U.S. to store it at warmer temperatures, citing new data.

For now, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is stored using ultra-low temperature freezers, which have been set up across the province. It's also the most effective vaccine, reaching 95 per cent efficacy in clinical trials, although experts have said there is a caveat to those numbers, as those trials were conducted before more contagious variants began circulating.

The Moderna vaccine is easier to store than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, making it the vaccine of choice for isolated communities. Moderna's vaccine can be stored in a regular freezer, and has been used throughout Labrador due to that greater stability.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is even easier to store. Similar to the common flu shot, it can be kept in a regular fridge. Although the vaccine has been shown as less effective than other doses in clinical trials, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the vaccine isn't second class. It has been shown to prevent serious illness, despite its 62 per cent efficacy rate.

"It's safe. It's an effective vaccine," Fitzgerald said during Monday's COVID-19 briefing.

"They are different technologies, they're different vaccines, but this one is still very, very effective.… I'll be getting it myself."

Health Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Moderna vaccine, AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (CBC)

The newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the only approved single-dose vaccine, and is widely seen as the easiest to distribute because it can be stored at fridge-like temperatures for long periods of time.

According to Fitzgerald, the other vaccines can't be mixed together to provide the needed two doses, like getting one dose of Moderna and another of AstraZeneca-Oxford. However, public health officials say they don't anticipate problems with getting the supply they need for people's second doses.

Following other provinces' leads, Newfoundland and Labrador will stretch the time between the first and second shot of the two-dose vaccines to four months. 

When will I get it?

Once the supply comes in, Haggie said the province will continue to move through Phase 2 of its vaccination plan, focusing on seniors over the age of 65, people with chronic disabilities, front-line and rotational workers.

He said first responders will not have to register to be vaccinated, as the provincial government is working with health authorities to make sure they are vaccinated.

The province will focus on making sure phase two groups are vaccinated before moving on to Phase 3 — the general public.

"The idea is that if we do run into problems with vaccine delivery, we don't end up with vulnerable groups without vaccine and people who simply came along first come first serve … who may be young and healthy. We're trying to do it in that way as a hedge," Haggie said.

The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, Dr. Lynette Powell, says physicians are ready to help deliver the COVID-19 vaccine. (CBC)

Who will give it to me?

Although there are still details to work out, Haggie said the rollout could also include pharmacists and physicians administering the COVID-19 vaccine to patients in a similar manner to the flu shot season of 2020. Those with mobility issues can also be vaccinated from home or avail of medical transportation.

Dr. Lynette Powell, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, said talks with the provincial government are progressing, with physicians ready to help in the rollout of the vaccines in Phase 3.

"I think most of the family physicians are going to be willing to step up in whatever capacity, and certainly to do that within their own practices as well."

Pharmacists are also prepared to help in the delivery of the vaccine, but the group representing them said they need to hear more details from government.

"Pharmacists have the training, expertise and are ideally situated to play a very important role in the vaccinating the general public against COVID-19," Pharmacists' Association of Newfoundland and Labrador executive director Jennifer Collingwood said in a statement to CBC News.

While Haggie said vaccinations in Eastern Health are a few days behind the other regional health authorities, he expects Phase 2 to be in full swing by Wednesday, with the goal of administering a shot to anyone who wants one by June.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn


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