Nearly one month after receiving its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Nova Scotia has expanded its immunization rollout to include health-care workers in Cape Breton and long-term care residents at Northwood Halifax.
It’s an especially important milestone for the long-term care facility, which experienced the most significant outbreak of the disease in the province in 2020, with 345 cases involving 246 residents and 99 employees.
“I was excited about it,” said resident Audrey Wiseman, who received her first dose without a flinch, alongside fellow resident Ann Hicks.
“I won’t be able to get the COVID, I hope, and that means a lot because I saw quite a few that had it and didn’t quite come through it.”
Last year, 53 people died of complications related to the outbreak at Northwood Halifax, prompting a provincial review and a class action lawsuit.
Both Wiseman and Hicks said they were pleased with the speed and efficiency of the vaccine rollout, and made it clear they felt safe at the long-term care home during the second wave of the pandemic.
“I was on a floor where most of the people had it and I never did get it,” Hicks explained. “I was isolated for several weeks but I never did have any problem with it, so they were doing their best to keep people safe.”
Northwood has already vaccinated some of its residents and designated family caregivers, and hopes to have the majority of its Halifax campus receive the first dose by the end of the week.
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An in-house immunization clinic may vaccinate 100 people or more a day, said Northwood’s long-term care director, Josie Ryan.
“I think it gives us a sense of safety, especially after what we went through in the spring,” said Ryan, adding that other COVID-19 safety protocols will still remain in the nursing home for months to come.
“Northwood is such a lively community and people intermix. Right now that’s kind of halted…we’re hoping the vaccine is going to bring life back to us.”
To date, more than 2,500 Nova Scotians have received their first dose of the vaccine, but Monday’s immunization clinic at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital was the first held in the province’s Eastern Zone.
The clinic has received 1,950 doses, so 975 health-care workers can receive their first dose this week, and the second dose in 21 days. An ultra-low temperature freezer has been installed at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, so the Pfizer vaccine can be stored safely.
“There’s a nice electricity almost in the air around the regional hospital in Sydney,” said Mike MacArthur, who co-leads the Eastern Zone immunization clinic.
“We were very fortunate in a planning perspective to be able to follow the establishment of the clinic in Halifax to see how it worked, to really get a sense as to the intricacies of a clinic setup.”
Public health officials are working on setting up ultra-low temperature freezers at other locations, including the Colchester East Hants Health Centre, Valley Regional Hospital and Yarmouth Regional Hospital.
The province is following the National Advisory Committee on Immunization guidelines, vaccinating health-care workers who work on the frontlines, long-term care residents and staff, and the elderly first.
In the second phase of the program, other health-care and essential workers who are not directly exposed to the virus will be vaccinated.
The third phase, slated to begin in late spring or the summer, will include the general public.