Nova Scotia has one of the lowest rates of vaccination per capita in the country and some epidemiologists are questioning why the province is choosing to hold onto thousands of doses of the vaccine, instead of delivering them to those in need.
The latest vaccine data shows Nova Scotia trailing all other provinces, except for Newfoundland and Labrador, in terms of the number of vaccines delivered.
So far, Nova Scotia has administered 3,853 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and has opted to keep all second doses in freezers, while immunization clinics are now set up and running in all corners of the province.
Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics of the Sinai Health System, says vaccines aren’t doing any good sitting in freezers and says the priority should be getting those shots to vulnerable long-term care home residents.
“Deliberately holding back vaccine is a strategy that most other provinces have abandoned and so it’s a bit surprising that Nova Scotia is maybe holding steadfast to that,” said Sinha.
The COVID-19 situation is much different here than in other provinces like Ontario and Quebec says Sinah, while things are even worse in New Brunswick where cases are on the rise again, while the province also reported two new deaths Tuesday, both were residents of Lily Court at Tucker Hall in the Parkland Saint John complex.
“While there’s been a real focus on vaccinating frontline health care workers in hospitals, I would argue the priority needs to be (long-term care) residents frist, the those workers with them and their essential family caregivers,” said Sinha.
In Nova Scotia, the Northwood Halifax campus was the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak during the first wave of the virus, which killed 53 residents.
“What we do know is in bigger provinces or across the country, 95 per cent of the people who died from COVID were older people,” said Singa. “And the majority of people who died in our provinces have been people largely in congregated care settings.”
Kevin Wilson is an epidemiologist in Halifax and a vaccine date tracker, providing vaccine distribution information from across the Atlantic and beyond, and although Nova Scotia trails most provinces per capita in vaccines distributed, he’s not sounding any alarms just yet.
“In any kind of ranking of vaccine rollout performance, some province is always going to be in last place, but that doesn’t mean that last place is that far from the average,” said Wilson.
Nova Scotia’s strategy to hold back all second doses acts as a speed trap says Wilson, ultimately slowing down and affecting the overall vaccination rate.
“If we were sort of this far being everyone else in say a month from now I would be moderately concerned,” said Wilson, “And at two months out, I’d be quite concerned.”
Residents at Northwood in Halifax became the first long-term care residents in Nova Scotia to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.
The province says despite what the numbers show, the vaccination plan is on track and every jurisdiction makes decisions based on their own epidemiology.
“Licensed COVID-19 products are approved to be administered 21-28 days apart and we are fortunate that our epidemiology allows us to closely follow this schedule,” said Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson Marla McInnis.
“With each shipment that arrives, we ensure that half is reserved so that nobody is left without their second dose.”
Dr. Scott Halperin, the director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology located in Halifax says the plan in Nova Scotia is sound and given the case numbers here the province can manage the vaccine roll out according to protocols from the manufacturers.
“It’s best to use the vaccine as it’s been studied and where there are data, as opposed to saying ‘well we think it will work if we go and do this’ and then find out that there was an interruption in supply for a short period of time,” said Halperin.
“At this stage because of the epidemiology in Nova Scotia, we can afford to use the vaccine as it was studied and be sure we are going to get that efficacy of 95 per cent that they reported in the clinical trials.”
Nova Scotia is set to receive 9,500 more doses oft the vaccine this week.