Nova Scotia received its first batch of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, in what health officials say is a “milestone” in the province’s pandemic response.
The province received 1,950 doses of the vaccine, as the government announced its arrival in a tweet. N.S. health officials then met for a live briefing to provide an update on the vaccine rollout plan.
Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, Nova Scotia’s deputy chief medical officer of health said this is a day many Nova Scotians have been waiting for.
“I myself am completely surprised to find us here in December after having started this long journey at the beginning of this year,” she said.
Read more: Nova Scotia reports 6 new cases on Tuesday
The first batch rollout
The first immunization against the coronavirus in Nova Scotia will take place on Wednesday.
The Pfizer vaccine has complicated handling requirements, and must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius, the province said.
The province said in the briefing that the vaccine is currently being stored at an ultra-low freezer on Dalhousie University campus, and that’s where the first batch will be distributed.
First in line to be immunized will be healthcare workers. According to NSHA, those who work in the following areas will receive the vaccine this month:
- COVID-19 units in hospitals
- Emergency departments
- Critical care units
- Birth unit and early labour unit at the IWK Health Centre
- Regional care units
Next in line will be seniors and those at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Some provinces chose the high-risk group as primary priority for immunization, but Nova Scotia says healthcare workers make more sense in the current stage of the rollout.
Gary O’Toole, senior director of Population and Public Health at NSHA, said the province’s goal is to get the vaccine to the person receiving it as fast as possible due to handling requirements.
He said the province is in the process of allocating ultra-low freezers for the vaccine for every region of the province but as of now, the vaccine cannot be “distributed past the point of delivery,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole said the province is able to mobilize healthcare workers and have them get their vaccines in the central zone.
In addition, the province said long-term care workers in the central zone will also receive the vaccine this month. All other long-term care staff and caregivers can expect to be immunized between January and March.
Until the end of the month, Watson-Creed said the province expects to receive about 5,800 doses, which includes two required doses for over 2,500 Nova Scotians.
After this week, with each subsequent batch received the province will administer half and save the second half for the second dose for each immunized person.
“We want to make sure people are immunized fully when they are immunized,” Watson-Creed said.
Rollout plan in 2021
In the first quarter of 2021, the province will receive small weekly batches of the vaccine.
Watson-Creed asks Nova Scotians for patience as the vaccine program is “in constant evolution.”
As of Tuesday, she said, details on publicly available vaccines are unknown as the province awaits new information from Ottawa and Pfizer.
“I would also ask Nova Scotians to keep that enthusiasm,” she said in the briefing, noting that the response from the public on the vaccine program has been generally positive.
Watson-Creed said initial surveys show that upwards of 60 per cent of Canadians are interested in being immunized for COVID-19, and the number is expected to grow.
She said from a herd immunity standpoint, the province is looking to vaccinate 75 per cent of Nova Scotians.
Until then, health officials say that Public Health guidelines such as mask-wearing and physical distancing will remain in place.
Dr. Shelly McNeil, chief of Division of Infectious Diseases, said in the Tuesday briefing that the immunization will not be mandatory, not even for healthcare workers, so protocols will remain in hospitals and elsewhere.
“We don’t have information yet on whether the vaccine will prevent people from getting asymptomatic (infection) and still be able to transmit the virus,” McNeil said.
In addition, she said they don’t yet have information on how long the vaccine will be effective for.
Nova Scotia has several months ahead in planning for public distribution, and health officials say there are still many details to be worked out.
According to Watson-Creed, the province has decided those who receive the vaccine will receive some form of documentation, partly to assist with getting the second dose.
She said health officials across the country are discussing consistent documentation for those who have been vaccinated.