Nova Scotia

N.S. receives first COVID-19 vaccine shipment, front-line rollout starts Wednesday

The province announced plans for rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Nova Scotia with the first immunization clinic starting on Wednesday.

1,950 Nova Scotians will be immunized in the coming days

Nova Scotia’s first allotment of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine is shown being unpacked before being placed in an ultra-low freezer. The vaccine is stored at a temperature below -70 C. (Nova Scotia Government)

The government of Nova Scotia outlined plans Tuesday for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine as the province received its first delivery of 1,950 doses.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be administered starting Wednesday to 350 front-line health-care workers. 

The first immunization clinic will be held at Dalhousie University in Halifax, where the vaccines are being stored in ultra-low-temperature freezers.

The vaccine is given in two doses with the second dose administered 21 days after the first. Data from clinical trials indicate that full protection is in place 28 days after the first shot.

Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, Nova Scotia's deputy chief medical officer of health, says the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in the province is a 'milestone.' (CBC)

An emailed statement from the Nova Scotia government said all 1,950 doses of the vaccine will be administered to different individuals.

"We have been assured by the federal government that we will be receiving more vaccine this month to provide the second dose," said spokesperson Heather Fairbairn.

"With subsequent shipments, we will be holding back 50 per cent of the vaccine received in order to administer the second dose when it's time." 

Initially, the province planned to immunize only 975 people using the first batch.

Doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Nova Scotia on Tuesday. (Nova Scotia)

"I think our approach here is, quite frankly, a conservative one," Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, Nova Scotia's deputy chief medical officer of health, said in a technical briefing Tuesday. "We want to make sure that people are immunized fully when they get immunized."

Nova Scotia will continue to receive small weekly shipments of the vaccine until the end of March, when the supply is expected to increase. Watson-Creed said Nova Scotia is expected to receive 5,800 doses by the end of this month.

Workers in COVID-19 units at hospitals, emergency departments, critical-care units, birth and early labour units at the IWK Health Centre, and regional care units will be immunized this month.

Staff and designated caregivers at long-term care facilities in the central health zone will also be vaccinated before the end of this year. All other staff and caregivers in the province will get the vaccine between January and March.

Residents in long-term care homes and older Nova Scotians — starting with those over 80 — will also get the vaccine in that time frame.

Gary O'Toole, a senior director with Nova Scotia Health, said more ultra-low-temperature freezers will eventually be installed in all regions of the province. (CBC)

Because of strict handling, transportation and ultra-cold storage requirements for the vaccine, the province said the first vaccinations will be administered in Halifax where the batch is being stored. 

"There are plans underway to install ultra-low-temperature freezers across the province to make sure that storage capacity is available regionally in every part of the province," Gary O'Toole, a senior director with Nova Scotia Health, said at the briefing.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the arrival of the vaccine in the province was a "landmark development in the fight against the virus."

"We will be following the national guidance around immunizing priority groups first as we receive more shipments of the vaccine over the coming weeks and months," McNeil said in a news release Tuesday.

Vaccine will not be mandatory

The COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory in Nova Scotia, but guidelines like mask-wearing and physical distancing will remain in effect.

"We will expect people both in the general public and amongst health-care workers to continue to follow all of the preventive measures that are in place now," Dr. Shelly McNeil, the senior medical director of COVID-19 planning and implementation with Nova Scotia Health, said at the briefing.

"And that's largely because we don't have information yet about whether the vaccine will prevent people from [being] asymptomatic or [getting] an infection without symptoms and may be still able to transmit the virus."

Watson-Creed said upward of 60 per cent of Canadians are interested in getting immunized for COVID-19.

She said Nova Scotia saw an uptick in people getting the influenza vaccine this year, which could translate into more people wanting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Shelly McNeil, the senior medical director of COVID-19 planning and implementation with Nova Scotia Health, said the vaccines will not be mandatory. (CBC)

"I think all in all, the signs are pointing to a high degree of interest in the vaccine and Nova Scotians getting it in high numbers, which would be excellent for the COVID response," she said.

Watson-Creed said the province is aiming to have everyone who wants a vaccine immunized by fall 2021.

She said the arrival of the vaccine in Nova Scotia is an important milestone.

"I think this is a day and a moment that Nova Scotians and certainly Canadians in every jurisdiction have been waiting for — the hope of a vaccine," she said.

"I, myself, am completely surprised to find us here in December after having started this long journey at the beginning of this year ... and I think it's one of those things that we'll all remember where we were when COVID-19 vaccines arrived in our province."

6 new cases Tuesday

On Tuesday, Nova Scotia reported six new cases of COVID-19 and a total of 57 active cases.

Three of the new cases were in the central health zone, two in the northern zone and one in the western zone. 

All of the new cases are related to previously reported cases.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority conducted 1,612 tests on Monday.

Cases in the Atlantic provinces

The latest numbers from the Atlantic provinces are:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case Tuesday. The province has 20 active cases.
  • New Brunswick reported one new case Tuesday and has 47 active cases. Three people are hospitalized with two in intensive care. 
  • P.E.I. reported no new cases Tuesday. The province has 16 active cases.