Nova Scotia

N.S. vaccine rollout making big strides but experts urge caution as province reopens

About 72 per cent of the population has now received their first dose and 12 per cent have their second dose, said the associate deputy minister for the Department of Health and Wellness.

18 per cent of people could have 2nd dose by end of week, says Tracey Barbrick

About 72 per cent of Nova Scotians are now vaccinated with a first dose or more. (Matthias Schrader/Associated Press)

Health-care staff are working long hours at more vaccine clinics as Nova Scotia rolls out an anticipated 400,000 doses of Moderna over the coming weeks.

The rate of Nova Scotians getting their first and second doses is seeing "big jumps every day with this number of vaccines moving," Tracey Barbrick, associate deputy minister for the Department of Health and Wellness, told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Wednesday. 

About 72 per cent of the population has now received their first dose and 12 per cent have their second dose, she said. Barbrick said there are 105,000 shots going into arms this week alone, and she expects second doses will be closer to 18 per cent by the end of the week.

"We were a little slower getting to second doses because we had such tremendous uptake on our first doses, and now we're careening at breakneck pace through second doses," she said. 

Tracey Barbrick is an associate deputy health minister in charge of Nova Scotia's vaccine rollout. (CBC)

It's good news as the province tentatively eases restrictions and reopens its borders to some Atlantic provinces without isolation requirements, but infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett urged caution.

She said even though the province has reported zero cases in recent days, the spread of the Delta variant is worrying because one dose only offers partial protection.

"We don't have people fully immunized at high enough levels yet to just depend on that. We've got to go slow, keep testing in the mix in order for that science to continue to serve us well," she said.

At least 15,000 people needed for first doses

Health officials have said fully vaccinating 75 per cent of the population will be an important milestone in the reopening plan. Barbrick said about 15,000 people still need to get their shot to reach that target.

"We're trying to make that as easy as we can. It is our younger demographic, sort of between 19 and 34, that we need some more people to come out," she said. 

On Thursday, the province's first walk-in vaccination clinic will open at the Halifax Convention Centre. It will be capable of administering 500 to 1,000 doses of vaccine a day.

New clinics are also popping up, including in Bayers Lake and New Glasgow where testing centres are being turned into vaccine clinics, Barbrick said.

Nova Scotia is out ahead of the national average for first doses, which is 66 per cent of the population. Barbrick credits Nova Scotia Health's centralized booking system.

"While we've had growing pains, like anything new has, our centralized booking system has been an absolute asset," she said. "Every Nova Scotian ... can go to one spot and find everything that's available to them in the province."

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett said it's an interesting time in the pandemic because it's hard to know what risk lies ahead. (CBC)

Barbrick also pointed to pharmacies nearly doubling appointments over the coming weeks and the three drive-thru clinics with helping Nova Scotia deal with more doses than officials ever expected at one time.

"Nova Scotia was told early on that we would never see more than 80,000 doses a week, so we built a system that could do 90,000 a week with a little buffer," Barbrick said. "Well, now we had an additional 250,000 doses of Moderna that's coming to us in just three weeks, so clearly that blew all our planning projections out of the water."

Barrett said even though vaccination rates are promising, she called it an "interesting point in the pandemic" because it's hard to get a handle on the risk as restrictions ease.

"We're trying to do things and move forward and reopen — not just us, but the rest of the world, " she said. "Every time we do something, we're doing a mini experiment.

"There's a lot of uncertainty as to how much we're gambling."

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet