Nova Scotia is reporting two COVID-related deaths and the province’s first case of a blood clotting condition in someone who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The two men who died were both in their 60s and in the Central Zone.
The province’s first case of vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) involves a man in his 40s who received his first dose of AstraZeneca in early May. According to the province, he developed symptoms about two weeks after vaccination, received treatment and is recovering.
The province had previously paused the use of AstraZeneca, after incidents of VITT in the country. Nova Scotia announced late yesterday it is resuming the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as an option for second doses, due to new guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
Nova Scotians who had AstraZeneca as their first dose will now be able to choose whether they want AstraZeneca, Moderna or Pfizer as their second dose.
“Real world evidence is telling us this vaccine is not as effective after first or second dose as Pfizer or Moderna. There is some different in effectiveness,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said on Wednesday during a news briefing.
There are about 2,000 doses of AstraZeneca in the province that is set to expire by the end of June. Strang said if there’s ongoing demand for the vaccine, they can ask the federal government for more.
Strang pointed out while the two mRNA vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — are interchangeable, the supply of Moderna is “uncertain” so it is more likely people will be able to book Pfizer vaccines before Moderna.
As well, new data from the province shows that of the 13 deaths in the third wave up to last Thursday, 11 of the people were not vaccinated and two of them were partially vaccinated.
The province says while vaccines are very effective, there will still be low rates of breakthrough infections.
It’s expected that there will be fewer breakthrough cases as more people become fully vaccinated.
17 new cases, re-opening plan begins
The province recorded 17 new cases and 72 recoveries since yesterday. Twelve of the cases are in Central Zone – eight of which are close contacts of previously-reported cases, two of which are related to travel and two of which are under investigation.
Three cases are in Eastern Zone and are close contacts of previously-reported cases. One case is in Northern Zone, which is related to travel. And one case is in Western Zone that is currently under investigation.
Strang said that there is “no sign of substantial community spread” now.
Wednesday also marks the beginning of the first phase of Nova Scotia’s re-opening plan. Restaurant patios can now open and the outdoor gathering limit has been increased to 10. Retail stores can operate at 25 per cent capacity with physical distancing and personal services — such as hair salons, barber shops and spas — can offer services that don’t require the removal of a mask by appointment only.
Strang said he is confident the province will be able to move into phase two of the plan by June 16.
Premier Iain Rankin said while some people may feel the province’s approach is too slow, he stressed Nova Scotians have worked hard to lower COVID-19 cases and that it would be “irresponsible” to re-open too quickly.
“Let me remind you that only a month ago, we went from having a couple cases up to triple digits. And three short weeks ago, we had a spike of more than 200 cases,” he said.
“The virus came in from outside carrying the variants and it spread quickly. We don’t want to go back there. You worked really hard to get us where we are today and it would be irresponsible for us to just choose an arbitrary date to open up without quarantine. So we’re taking a slow and steady approach.”
He said the province is planning for a “proof of vaccine strategy” that is being discussed nationally, which would allow rotational workers and visitors to bypass quarantine if they have had two doses of a vaccine. Those with one dose might have a shorter quarantine, with testing.
He added there would need to be a credible system, because fraud is a concern.
Rankin says if cases and hospitalization numbers continue to be low, and the province can “contain the virus,” Nova Scotia would be in a position to move into phase three by June 30. That’s what Nova Scotia would allow travel throughout the Atlantic region.
However, it’s the same timeframe when Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as New Brunswick, are expecting to reopen to Canada as a whole.
“It’s challenging and I’m not calling it a bubble anymore. What I’m looking at is a phased in approach to allowing for Atlantic Canadians to start to look at potentially coming into our province,” Rankin said.