Nova Scotia

Improvements to booking system coming as vaccine rollout ramps up in N.S.

The province's chief medical officer of health says the COVID-19 vaccine booking system for Nova Scotians over the age of 80 will be improved after the website struggled to keep up with demand on its first day.

'We know we need to do better and we will,' Dr. Robert Strang says

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang during a COVID-19 briefing last month. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Nova Scotia needs "to do better" for seniors trying to reserve a slot for a long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine, the province's chief medical officer of health said Friday, days after high traffic shut down the booking website for several hours after it launched.

Dr. Robert Strang said the province is putting measures in place to make the vaccine booking process smoother for people over the age of 80.

"Monday was not a good day for anyone who tried to book an appointment," Strang told a news conference as the province announced two new cases of COVID-19. 

"We know we need to do better and we will."

Strang said people over the age of 80 will now be split up into three groups based on their birthdays: people born between Jan. 1 and April 30, people born between May 1 and Aug. 31, and people born between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31.

Booking for new appointments will resume for the first group of seniors on Monday at 7 a.m. AT. Booking for the two other age groups will open later this month. 

"We will ensure that everyone is made well aware when the opportunity to book, based on their month of birth, comes up," he said.

Vaccine rollout 'is flexible,' says Strang

In a week that saw the announcement of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine coming to Nova Scotia, an extension of recommended intervals between the first and second doses of vaccines, and the Health Canada approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Friday, Strang said Nova Scotia's vaccine plan will remain fluid.

"Our plan is flexible and we are able to respond in a way that gets vaccines in arms as quickly as possible," he said.

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization said Wednesday the maximum interval between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines should increase to four months in order to boost the number of Canadians being vaccinated.

That, said Strang, is an "absolute game changer for us in public health."

"What that means is we can focus all our vaccine and all our efforts in the coming weeks for Nova Scotians to get their first dose of vaccine," he said.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said Thursday that any Nova Scotian wanting a COVID-19 vaccine may be able to get their first dose by the end of June. The original target for first doses for all Nova Scotians was September.

Strang said Friday the June target is dependent on a consistent vaccine supply. He said the focus will move to the second dose in the summer and fall.

New vaccine approved

The province expects to get its first doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at some point next month. Discussions are underway to determine the best use for those shots, said Strang.

A health-care worker holds a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign at the Klerksdorp Hospital on February 18, 2021. (Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

Where the Johnson & Johnson shot is a single dose, Strang said the best use for it may be "in some vulnerable populations where getting them back for a second dose may be more of a challenge."

More details coming for AstraZeneca vaccine

Earlier this week, the province said it will soon receive a shipment of 13,000 AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines, which will be used on Nova Scotians age 50 to 64 this month.

The first doses of that vaccine will be administered the week of March 15 at 26 locations across Nova Scotia, the province said Wednesday.

Two new cases

As of Friday, the province had an active total of 31 cases of COVID-19.

The two new cases are in the central health zone. One is a close contact of a case previously reported, and the other case is under investigation.

Nova Scotia Health's labs completed 5,589 tests on Thursday.

Three people are currently in hospital with COVID-19, including one in intensive care.

As of Thursday, 38,676 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered. Of those, 14,395 Nova Scotians have received their second dose.

The province is also renewing the state of emergency. The order takes effect at noon Sunday and extends to noon on March 21 unless the government terminates or extends it.

Some restrictions lifted

Nova Scotia also lifted restrictions on the Halifax area Friday morning as cases of the virus remain low.

Many of the restrictions that came into effect Feb. 27 around restaurant hours, sport competitions, performances and non-essential travel ended as of 8 a.m.

However, some restrictions will remain in place until March 27, including allowing visits from just two designated caregivers for residents in long-term care facilities, and the need for venues to have an approved plan to have spectators or audiences.

Strang noted there are still a number of cases with no known source.

"We still have some virus activity, and we still need to be careful," he said.

Atlantic Canada case numbers

  • New Brunswick reported four new cases on Friday for a total of 33 known active cases. Three people are in hospital related to COVID-19, with two in intensive care.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case on Friday. After a significant number of recoveries, the province now has 113 known active cases. Seven people are in hospital.
  • P.E.I. reported one new case on Friday, making for 24 known active cases on the Island — the most since the pandemic started. The province moved out of red-level lockdown on Thursday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Cooke

Reporter/editor

Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca.

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