New Brunswick health officials unveiled their modified plan for vaccinating the population against COVID-19.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, announced at a briefing on Thursday that the province will delay the second dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for those who are considered to be at a lower risk.
She said that although there is some measure of risk in this decision, that one dose provides some measure of protection.
“We must get the vaccine into the arms of more New Brunswickers and it must be done quickly,” said Russell.
Patients who are at a higher risk will get a second dose 28 days after receiving their first dose, as per recommendation from Pfizer.
Russell said some jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom. have pushed the second dose beyond the 28 day period and have successfully continued to vaccinate their populations.
For low-risk individuals the goal will be to administer the second dose as soon as possible but no more than 90 days after their first dose.
By pushing the date of the second dose, Russell said it will allow them to get doses into more arms as soon as possible, thereby lowering the number of hospitalizations and making sure the health-care system is not overwhelmed.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard also confirmed that it will now take until the end of March until the COVID-19 vaccine is available to everyone in the first phase of the province’s vaccination program.
She said that the first clinic for First Nations communities will be set up the first week of March at the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation.
Starting in April the province will begin vaccinations in the second phase of its vaccination rollout, Shephard said.
That will include people at risk due to health conditions, people whose work puts them at risk such as police and firefighters, and people who cross borders for work.
Shephard confirmed that school staff and high school and post-secondary students aged 16 to 24 will be vaccinated in June.
She stressed that New Brunswickers should not attempt to contact 811 about vaccinations and that people who are eligible in the coming weeks will be contacted by health officials.
Greg MacCallum, Director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization and the man in charge of the vaccination rollout, said the province is expecting to get half a million doses by July.
He said that half of New Brunswickers will look to have a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by July.
Edmundston zone moves to orange
Shephard also announced on Thursday that the province will move the Edmundston zone from the red phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan to the orange phase.
That change will go into effect at midnight on Thursday.
The decision means that all of New Brunswick will now be in the orange phase of the recovery plan.
In the orange phase, household bubbles are being expanded to include 10 contacts from outside the household. However, the 10 contacts must remain consistent.
As an example, even though groups are allowed out into restaurants, they may not sit with people from another household bubble.
Outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people or less with physical distancing and an operational plan.
The province says that essential travel is only recommended in and out of orange zones. However, people can continue to travel within the province for work, school, essential errands and medical appointments.
Non-urgent medical procedures are permitted during this phase.
Unregulated health professionals, barbers, hair stylists and spas may operate under a COVID-19 operational plan. They must actively screen patrons, have enhanced barriers and closed waiting rooms.
Gyms and fitness facilities may also operate under a COVID-19 operation plan although physical distancing of two metres and masks are mandatory for “low-intensity fitness classes” such as yoga, tai chi and stretching.
For high-intensity activities such as spin, aerobics and boot camps, that physical distancing must be extended to three metres.
Entertainment venues such as casinos, bingo halls, arcades and cinemas may operate under a COVID-19 operations plan although occupancy limits are set at 50 patrons or fewer, depending on the size of the venue.
Public Transit rules have also been updated to allow for operations to continue as long as physical distancing of one metre is followed and masks are used continuously.
New Brunswick reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, all of which are located in the Edmundston zone.
There are 111 cases of COVID-19 at this time, the province confirmed.
There have been 24 deaths in the province.
As of Wednesday, there are five people in hospital as a result of the virus, of which one is in intensive care.
There have been 1,411 confirmed cases in the province, of which 1,275 are considered to be recovered.