Vaccines flooding into N.L., as health officials report 1 new case of COVID-19

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as the province ramps up its vaccine distribution.

The case is a person in their 60s in the Western Health region, and is related to travel within Canada, said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

With no new recoveries since Tuesday, there are now four active cases in the province. No one is in hospital due to the virus.

Newfoundland and Labrador has had only one travel-related case in the past six days, a feat Fitzgerald called “quite remarkable,” considering the spike in cases across the country.

“It is truly a testament to everyone’s commitment to keep the COVID wave at bay,” she said at the top of the province’s weekly briefing.

The low caseload prompted another public health pivot Wednesday, which aims to get high school students back in classrooms.

Fitzgerald said public health teams worked with the English school board on a back-to-class plan for students in grades 10 to 12, who will begin a blended learning model starting April 14, alternating between classroom and virtual learning.

The model “strikes a balance” between transmission concerns and students’ well-being, she said. 

High schools have been closed across much of the province since February, after a severe variant outbreak at Mount Pearl Senior High in February.

Vaccines ‘dropped out of the sky’

As of Monday, Fitzgerald said, the province had administered just over 90,000 doses of vaccine. That number will continue to sharply rise in the coming weeks, health officials say, as they report higher and more stabilized delivery volumes.

Vaccine supply chain issues seem to have evaporated in Newfoundland and Labrador, with shipments of tens of thousands of new doses now rolling out in clinics.

Some 43,780 doses arrived in the last week, representing more than one-third of the 129,060 vaccines that Newfoundland and Labrador has received so far.

Health Minister John Haggie says Newfoundland and Labrador could ramp up vaccination if the federal government allocates more doses to the province. (CBC)

Pfizer-BioNTech’s supply chain has “stabilized,” according to Health Minister John Haggie, coinciding with one of Moderna’s biweekly shipments arriving over the weekend. Alongside that, a shipment of AstraZeneca-Oxford “arrived unannounced at the same time,” he told CBC Radio’s St. John’s Morning Show on Wednesday.

“It kind of literally dropped out of the sky at the end of the week,” he said.

Those 20,000 surprise doses, Fitzgerald said, will enter the distribution network as quickly as possible. Without prior warning and time to plan, health authorities are now scrambling to set up clinics and book appointments. 

“Vaccine supply is often unpredictable,” Fitzgerald said, “but we are grateful for every single dose that arrives, whether expected or unexpected.”

Watch Wednesday’s briefing:

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shipments have become “reliable enough that we can plan a week ahead,” Haggie told CBC, with this week’s deliveries already allocated to clinics this week. The province can now expect 16,000 to 20,000 Pfizer shots every week.

The additional AstraZeneca-Oxford doses are being given out by Western Health and Central Health starting Wednesday to people age 55 to 64, with Western Health announcing it will expand its clinics to more locations, including Burgeo, Deer Lake and Port aux Basques.

Haggie said similar clinics will begin in Eastern Health in the next day or so.

The province has set an April 23 deadline to contact all people over 70 who have pre-registered for a vaccine, he announced.

Province can speed up plans

There are hints that another 80,000 AstraZeneca-Oxford doses could be on their way before May, Haggie said Wednesday morning. But that vaccine is currently only being used on people older than 55, as federal health officials investigate safety concerns over potential blood clotting issues.

“Once we get to about 160,000 doses of AstraZeneca delivered, the question becomes then, if there’s been no new science, what use that would be for us, once we’ve done the population for who it’s suited,” Haggie said.

An unexpected AstraZeneca-Oxford shipment has led to clinics starting on Wednesday in Western Health and Central Health, with Eastern Health to set up similar clinics by Thursday or so, according to Haggie. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Some people younger than 55 received their first dose of that vaccine prior to the safety investigation, and Haggie said provincial officials are still undecided on what to do about their second dose. He hopes there will be an answer on that within the three or so months left until the second dose is due.

The province is now fine-tuning its Phase 2 vaccination plan, which includes essential workers. Fitzgerald said teachers will enter the queue, as well as anyone employed in a food processing plant, as those essential workers must report to their jobs in Alert Level 5.

The province will provide timelines for all Phase 2 groups later Wednesday, Haggie said.

Overall, Newfoundland and Labrador is on track with its rollout to give every eligible person their first dose by Canada Day, give or take a week, he said. But there’s also room within the system to speed up those plans, if Canada allocates more to the province.

“We are in the position to do more. We have pharmacists ready, we have physicians ready, and we have a public health system that is capable of delivering more vaccines — but we don’t have them,” he said.

The province will also start providing daily updates on the numbers of vaccines distributed.

“We heard very clearly at our media availabilities and through feedback that the current weekly wasn’t cutting it for everybody, so we’re going to go to daily,” he said.

Those updated numbers on the province’s website will lag about a day or so behind the current situation, he said.

There hasn’t yet been word on the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson shot approved by Health Canada, according to Haggie.

Caseload bodes well for bubble

The province’s caseload remains low even after confirmation that a person who visited the Health Sciences Centre emergency room in St. John’s three times between March 28 and March 31 later tested positive for COVID-19.

Eastern Health advised Wednesday that about 50 patients, close contacts and staff members identified through that contact-tracing process have all tested negative, but will continue to complete a 14-day isolation period.

The numbers thus far bode well for a renewed Atlantic bubble, which Premier Andrew Furey says is still on the table for April 19.

But inviting St-Pierre-Miquelon, the French territory off Newfoundland’s coast, into the bubble is not his purview, he added. The archipelago last week lobbied Furey to open borders to their 6,000 residents.

Furey continued to distance himself from that decision Wednesday, saying international border concerns are a file for Ottawa to tackle.

“Let’s be clear, that decision is squarely with the federal government,” he said. “This is between Canada and France.”

There’s no plan to eliminate or reduce self-isolation requirements for fully vaccinated travellers outside the Atlantic region, however. Fitzgerald said immunization ratios aren’t yet high enough, and there isn’t enough evidence to show vaccines can prevent viral spread to those who aren’t immune. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Vaccines flooding into N.L., as health officials report 1 new case of COVID-19

Aggregated from: CBC | Newfoundland and Labrador News

Leave a Reply