Vaccines intended for N.S., N.B. to be diverted to Northern Canada
N.S. top doc says diversion is 'concerning' but understandable given 'unique challenges' in North
The federal government is diverting portions of vaccine shipments from at least two provinces to help supply Canada's north.
Provincial health officials in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick said Friday that some doses of the Moderna vaccine planned for their provinces would instead go to Canada's northern territories.
"While we know this is concerning to hear, we also understand the federal government's rationale," Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference Friday.
"It is to address the complexities and unique challenges in our northern neighbours. To do that, they need the support and co-operation of all provinces."
Nova Scotia's shipment of Moderna vaccine next week will be reduced to 3,000 doses from the planned 5,900 doses, Strang said. He said he also expects the province's March shipment to be reduced.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the provinces agreed in December that Moderna vaccines would be used to help deal with supply issues in Northern Canada since the storage requirements of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would make it difficult to transport and store in the North. The Pfizer vaccines must be stored between –60 C and –80 C.
Later Friday evening, New Brunswick Public Health said that province will also have some of its supply diverted to Northern Canada, but it could not yet say how many doses will be diverted or when. P.E.I.'s chief public health officer also announced Saturday the island would receive a smaller shipment of Moderna vaccine than originally anticipated.
It was not clear where exactly the diverted doses would be used.
Diversion may be a first in Canada
This could be the first time the federal government has diverted vaccine supply destined for one province or territory to another.
While Strang's announcement is believed to be the first time any province has acknowledged that vaccines are being diverted to the territories, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada told the CBC on Sunday that additional doses have been going to the territories since the vaccine rollout began.
The spokesperson could not provide a breakdown of how many additional doses had been sent to the north.
But late last month, the military commander leading Canada's COVID-19 vaccine logistics said Ottawa was not considering diversion of any vaccines.
"We have not considered shifting doses from one province or one jurisdiction to another at this time," said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin during a news conference on Jan. 28.
"I think it would be counterproductive to do that in the midst of our immunization plan.
"What we could anticipate being prepared to do is adjust based on per-capita distribution at the locations that require the most future shipments long enough out for provinces to plan accordingly."
The Moderna vaccine is being used in Nova Scotia's long-term care homes. Strang said while the diversion of the vaccine to the territories will slow down the vaccination rollout in long-term care homes, it will not affect the planned second doses for those who have already received one shot. Nova Scotia has held back a second dose for each person vaccinated so far.
Strang also said the province is exploring the possibility of using some Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in long-term care homes, although that vaccine's ultra-cold storage requirements may make that tricky.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that Canada will receive more doses of the Pfizer vaccine between April and June than originally believed, and the federal government has agreed to purchase four million extra doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Strang said he expects the amount of Pfizer product shipped to Nova Scotia will "substantively increase" in the coming weeks.
"But we have to be a little bit careful because until we get actual confirmed numbers, we don't want to count our chickens before the eggs hatch," he said.
"It's good news, but we don't have absolute guarantee of those amounts. So we'll plan for it and be ready to get whatever vaccine we get."
In a statement to CBC News on Sunday, Health Canada said in the coming weeks, all provinces will receive more Pfizer doses on a weekly basis than they have so far, and that the increase in Pfizer doses will be larger than the reduction provinces experienced with Moderna vaccines.
Concerns about variants
Strang said staff are re-examining Nova Scotia's two recent cases of the COVID-19 variant originally identified in the U.K. The initial investigation into those cases did not determine the source of the infections, so all the close contacts of those two people are now being re-interviewed and retested.
There is no evidence of community spread of COVID-19 variants in Nova Scotia, Strang said.
"We're using this retesting to be extra careful to make sure we haven't missed anything. But I have to reiterate that if you look around the world, and even in Canada, when the variant shows up, it's very obvious in terms of large numbers of people spreading very rapidly. We're not seeing that."
Strang said Newfoundland's explosion of cases in the last few days — which has been attributed to social gatherings and sports tournaments, including a volleyball tournament that involved teams from across St. John's — underscores why Nova Scotians must "stay the course" and be vigilant.
9 active cases in N.S.
Nova Scotia now has nine active cases, with no new cases reported on Friday. One person is in hospital in the intensive care unit (ICU).
There were 1,999 tests conducted on Thursday, and 1,006 tests administered between Feb. 5 and 11 at pop-up rapid testing sites in Amherst, Cole Harbour, Halifax and Tantallon.
On Thursday, the province's health authority reported a new potential exposure notice and corrected an earlier one. The new exposure was at the Sobeys at 210 Wyse Rd. in Dartmouth on Feb. 1 from 4 to 8 p.m AT. Anyone exposed then could get symptoms up to Feb. 15, it said.
Public Health also said it had given the wrong date when it asked people to get retested over a Halifax exposure location. The correct exposure date for HomeSense Bayers Lake at 9 Washmill Ct., is Jan. 23 between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Anyone who was in the store then should self-isolate and book a COVID-19 test on the self-assessment website or by contacting 811, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms.
Atlantic Canada case numbers
- New Brunswick reported five new cases Friday. There are now 156 known active cases in the province. Six people are in hospital, two in intensive care.
- Newfoundland and Labrador reported 50 new COVID-19 cases Friday as the province confronts a spiralling outbreak in the St. John's area. There are 260 active cases
- P.E.I. has two active cases.