Nova Scotia

N.S. pauses AstraZeneca rollout, citing concerns over blood clots

Nova Scotia will pause the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 out of "an abundance of caution" over a rare blood-clotting disorder, the province said Wednesday.

Nova Scotia reported 149 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Premier Iain Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, at a COVID-19 briefing on April 29. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Nova Scotia will follow the lead of other provinces and pause the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 out of "an abundance of caution" over a rare blood-clotting disorder, the province said Wednesday. 

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang held a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday as they announced 149 new cases of the virus.

The government said its decision to halt distribution of AstraZeneca comes after an observed increase in vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, also known as VITT. Strang said there have been no cases of VITT in Nova Scotia.

"The decision to pause the use of AZ is based on caution, science and the availability of alternative mRNA vaccines," Strang said, referring to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Alberta was the first province to confirm it would stop administering first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing a scarcity of supply, while Ontario will no longer offer it as a first dose. Future supply would instead be reserved for optional second shots. 

More than 1,000 appointments cancelled

Rankin said with more and more availability of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are now open for those 40 years old and over, Nova Scotians have been turning away from AstraZeneca.

More than 1,000 people have cancelled their AstraZeneca appointments, Rankin said.

He noted the province's vaccine plan is still on schedule. Strang said anyone who has AstraZeneca appointments coming up will be rebooked.

When asked what his message would be to those who are now nervous after receiving the AstraZeneca shot, Strang said he'd always been clear that Nova Scotians had the ability to make their own decisions but there were more risks with AstraZeneca.

Now that Nova Scotia has enough mRNA supply for those in the 40-plus age range, Strang said it "doesn't make sense" to offer AstraZeneca when the mRNAs don't have the same safety concerns.

Strang said a decision on second doses will be made once more information is received from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization around mixing vaccines.

Nova Scotia received 60,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. As of May 11, the government said 57,576 doses had been administered.

Strang said they have asked the federal government to hold onto Nova Scotia's next scheduled shipment of AstraZeneca until they know what their next steps with the vaccine will be.

The province reported 119 recoveries from COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the number of total active cases to 1,621.

Nova Scotia health authority labs completed 7,289 tests on Tuesday.

There are 116 new cases in the central zone, 13 in western zone, 11 in eastern zone and nine in northern zone.

Rankin said during the briefing there are 75 people in hospital.

Health authority expands ICU capacity

The health authority said there were 20 people in intensive care as of early Wednesday afternoon. It has activated its provincial escalation plan to increase ICU bed capacity in response to a surge of patients requiring the highest level of care.

As part of this plan, fewer than five intensive care patients (both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19) have been transferred to ICUs in the northern and western zones from the central zone. There are also 47 more patients in ICUs for non-COVID-19 reasons.

While a spike in hospital admissions for COVID-19 was expected this week, the release said the proportion of those patients needing intensive care has been higher than anticipated.

"These patients are most often otherwise healthy people, not the frail, older patients we saw admitted last spring," the release said.

The health authority said it has confidence that its provincial system has the capacity to provide safe intensive care for all those who need it, but it needs support from services outside ICUs to make that happen.

Additional service reductions, including postponement of non-urgent surgeries both in central and other zones, may be required so staff with the right skills are freed up to help.

New daily cases were still in the triple digits on Tuesday, with 118 new cases reported, but with more recoveries than new cases, the province's active caseload dropped for the first time in several weeks.

Resumption of low-risk exposure notifications

The health authority announced Tuesday that Public Health would resume its practice of issuing low-risk exposure notifications.

"If at these low-risk locations, such as retail and grocery stores, it is recommended that those present during the date and time listed get tested," said a news release.

"Unless you have symptoms, you do not need to self-isolate. Public Health strongly encourages all Nova Scotians to regularly get tested for COVID-19."

Sailor Second Class Hannah Angel directs residents as they arrive for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax on April 28. (Andrew Vaughah/The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia is now offering up to four paid sick days for people who must take time off work due to COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the government said people who cannot work remotely and miss less than 50 per cent of their scheduled work time in a one-week period due to COVID-19 may be eligible.

That includes those who need to take time off because they are awaiting a test appointment, those who are getting tested, those who are self-isolating while awaiting test results, and those who are going to get vaccinated.

Atlantic Canada case numbers

  • New Brunswick reported nine new cases on Wednesday. There are 123 active cases. 
  • Newfoundland and Labrador reported 10 new cases on Wednesday for a total of 81 active cases.
  • P.E.I. has nine active cases as of Wednesday.