Nova Scotia

What we know so far about how a COVID-19 vaccine will roll out in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's top doctor says the province will be ready to start administering COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they're approved and delivered, but only to a select group of citizens. There are still many unknowns about a widespread immunization program.

Canadian Armed Forces to help the province with logistical planning

A person in Mainz, Germany gets a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as part of the product's clinical trial. Health Canada could approve that vaccine before the end of the year. (Reuters)

The province will be ready to start administering COVID-19 vaccines to a select group as soon as they're approved and delivered, but it will be several months into 2021 before a widespread immunization program begins, according to Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.

Dr. Robert Strang said even though the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has released recommendations, it will be up to provincial authorities to create more precise rollout plans for those high-risk groups. 

"There's a complicated calculus about vaccine amount, risk groups and facilities where you can immunize folks and that's the logistic planning which is going to be starting next week," Strang said Friday at a COVID-19 briefing.

A team of logisticians from the Canadian Armed Forces will help with that work, Strang said.

The first people to receive the vaccine will be long-term care residents and workers, front-line health-care workers caring for COVID-19 patients, and people aged 80 and above.

The vaccines will be delivered by Public Health and nursing staff in the targeted facilities

75,000 doses expected in first allotment

If one of the leading vaccine candidates, produced by Pfizer, is approved by Health Canada as expected this month, Strang said Nova Scotia will receive a "very small amount" before year's end, followed by an allotment of 75,000 doses that will start to arrive in January.

But Strang stressed that there are no guarantees when it comes to numbers, especially given a recent halving in Pfizer's production target, attributed to a lack of raw materials.

In any case, Strang said the province's initial allotment will arrive gradually over the course of about four months.

A worker packs boxes with dry ice as Brussels International Airport and its partners prepare a massive logistic operation of carrying new vaccines and vaccine candidates for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) through Brussels International Airport. (Johanna Geron/Reuters)

It will likely be the second quarter of 2021 before anyone outside the priority groups can access vaccine, and there are still many unknowns about how a widespread immunization program will be administered.

Pharmacies have played a major role in influenza vaccine distribution in recent years, and Amy Wagg of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia said pharmacists are "eager" to extend that to COVID-19 vaccination — they're just waiting for direction.

Strang said Friday that conversations with doctors and pharmacists will start in the new year.

Pharmacists' readiness, Wagg said via email, will depend on the province's planning, including whether it provides supplies like syringes and how it manages cold storage.

Province looking for more freezers

One of the major challenges associated with the Pfizer vaccine is that it needs to be transported and stored between -70 and -80 C. Standard physician offices, pharmacies and even hospitals don't have equipment that meets those extreme cold needs.

So far, Nova Scotia has just one freezer ready for COVID-19 vaccines, which was just acquired for the QEII Health Science Centre. Strang said Ottawa will soon be providing a second for the Public Health offices in Burnside, and Premier Stephen McNeil said the province is looking for more through the private sector.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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