Dr. Strang answers questions about Nova Scotia's ongoing fight against COVID-19
Top doc discusses new vaccine mandate, third doses for travel and when children will start to be immunized
The fight against COVID-19 in Nova Scotia is ongoing, and that means implementing new policies and requirements to keep cases low.
Earlier this week, the province announced it will implement a vaccine mandate for all health-care workers and teachers, just days before it's set to enforce a proof-of-vaccine policy for non-essential activities.
Preston Mulligan, guest host of CBC's Information Morning Halifax, spoke to Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, on Friday about the upcoming changes and Nova Scotia's future in the pandemic.
This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
Have there been incidents of unvaccinated teachers or health-care workers spreading COVID-19?
We have had a couple of cases where in long-term care there's been unvaccinated staff who have been infected in the facilities. It's not clear whether they've actually spread it to anybody else, but we certainly know there have been some cases among unvaccinated health-care workers.
What about outside those long-term care homes? Is it happening in regular health-care settings or in schools?
We're not aware of any cases in schools. The vast majority of our cases in schools are people who are exposed out in the community. The majority of them are unvaccinated. Kids under 12 can't be vaccinated yet because of age. We've had a few schools where there's been transmission within the school, but I'm not aware that it's from any unvaccinated staff or teachers.
Other than the one cluster of cases we had in hospital during the third wave, we haven't had any cases of transmission of COVID-19 within a hospital setting.
The vaccine mandate applies to about 80,000 employees in the province. Is there any chance it might be extended to include people who work at places where we often see exposure notices, like restaurants and gyms?
This is a government-directed requirement on vaccination for health-care and education settings. We feel that, along with the proof-of-vaccination policy ... that we have very good vaccine coverage to start with.
We need to do more, but we feel that the worker policy and this general proof-of-vaccination policy, is going to get us to where we need to be.
Are you seeing appointment bookings spike now that we've got the vaccine mandate for some employees?
We only announced that Wednesday, but when we announced the general proof-of-vaccination policy a few weeks ago, we were slowing down with people coming forward to get their first dose.
But in the last couple of weeks, we've been back up to — at least on weekdays — we're averaging about 1,000 people per day.
Some people are eligible for third doses — immunocompromised individuals, people who can't travel for work because they had two different vaccines — is it possible that a third dose would be offered to people who have mixed vaccines who want to travel for leisure?
We've had lots of discussions with our counterparts in the federal government, both with their international affairs people and people from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
They are working really hard internationally to try to resolve this issue and in particular, they're focused on the United States ... because mixed [doses] produce very good protection against the virus and there's no scientific reason for countries not to accept that.
Where do we stand on the timeline to get children under 12 vaccinated?
What we're hearing is that Health Canada is still waiting to get the clinical trial data brought forward to them by the manufacturers.
By the time it gets through the process of review and possible approval for licensure by first Health Canada and then reviewed by NACI, who gives recommendations on how to use it, in all likelihood, it's going to be early 2022 before we get that.
There's a listener whose daughter is about to turn 12 years old. She says her daughter is very small for her age so she's wondering if her daughter should get the full vaccine dosage?
Yes. Body size doesn't make that much of a difference, so certainly the full dosage is recommended for that age.
What about cases in schools? Is there now a different threshold for moving to online classes than there was last year?
We're doing everything we can to keep kids in school learning — that's the optimum place. At this point, we haven't had to move to online learning.
That's certainly a tool we could use, but given the protection of vaccine for those who are 12 and above — and we actually have very good vaccine coverage rates in the junior high and high school age youth — and the requirements now around vaccination for teachers and the other measures we have put in place ... we don't feel that it's likely we're going to have to go closing down schools or closing down a classroom, but that's certainly something that's always possible.
Starting Monday, there will be no limit on the number of people who can attend formal gatherings, nor any requirement for social distancing. But informal gatherings will have a maximum of 25 indoors. Why is that?
Starting Monday, we can lift all the [formal] gathering limits. [Formal gathering locations] can get to 100 per cent capacity, but to do that we need to have the proof-of-vaccination policy in place and and only have vaccinated people there.
For informal gatherings — because those are the ones where there's no infrastructure, there's no recognized business or organization that can maintain and monitor a proof-of-vaccination policy so things like a house party or a family decides to have a backyard wedding — you're potentially bringing vaccinated and unvaccinated people together so we need to maintain the limits on those informal gatherings.
Is Nova Scotia planning to use a QR code, which has posed security risks for other provinces, for its proof of vaccine?
We're actually actively working on that. The federal government has set standards for all provinces and territories to have a QR code, so there's consistency across the country.
Certainly, security has been a big part of that. Our digital team is working on that with other folks across the country.
By Oct. 4, people can start to access ... a new proof of vaccination, which will have the QR code. What we won't have for a few more weeks is actually the [QR code] readers, so it'll probably be later on in October. So if you go to a restaurant or bar, they can actually have this reader that can read your QR code.
Until then, you can either show it on your phone or actually print it off and have a paper copy of it.