The pandemic has been called a lot of things, but lately it’s come to be known as “a race against time.” Humanity is rushing to get COVID-19 vaccines into as many arms as possible before the current viral variants, or a new mutation, render the vaccine useless. This race is happening everywhere at once, with varying degrees of success. Here in Nova Scotia, it’s not going well.
Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, gave a vaccine update yesterday in one of his regular webcast C19 briefings with outgoing premier Stephen McNeil. He had some good news: This week, the province is awaiting the arrival of 10,530 doses of the Pfizer vaccine—Nova Scotia’s largest shipment since Canada’s vaccine roll-out started in mid-December—and the distribution system for getting jabs into arms is wide-ranging.
“It will be delivered to seven cold storage sites across the province,” said Strang. “And this number of doses does take into account that we will now be drawing six rather than five doses per vial of the Pfizer vaccine.”
But as we’ve learned in the last two months, expected vaccine deliveries don’t always match up to what arrives. The province is already 25,000 doses behind expectations, so it can’t catch up this week even if a record 10,530 doses turn up.
We weren’t supposed to be here. That first celebrated vaccine shipment arrived on December 15, a load of 1,950 Pfizer vaccines. It was soon joined by 3,900 more from Pfizer, and then 3,700 of Moderna’s vaccine. A vaccination strategy took shape, with three phases of inoculation planeed to correspond with ever-increasing supplies of vaccine.
Phase 1, January to April 2021, had already started when Nova Scotia first briefed reporters on the strategy. At that January 5 technical briefing, a slideshow gave the week-by-week breakdown of how many vaccines of both Pfizer and Moderna were supposed to arrive. Projected vaccine arrivals for January and February ranged from almost 4,000 to upwards of 10,000 doses each week.
But like a Tinder date lying about their height, reality hasn’t matched up with expectations. Just two weeks later, a January 19 technical briefing acknowledged anticipated vaccine delays. A line from that slideshow put numbers to the situation: “Reflects 13,500 fewer doses in January and February and an anticipated 13,500 more doses in March to offset reduction.”
“We still continue to be assured that this is a short-term delay and that the amounts that are held back now will be made up as we get into deliveries in February and March,” said Strang on January 26.
A couple weeks later, at the end of the February 8 week, Nova Scotia received 1,950 Pfizer vaccines. Originally, 7,800 Pfizer and 3,700 Moderna vaccines were expected to arrive.
In total, 61,800 vaccines were supposed to arrive by the week of February 15. In reality, we’ve gotten 36,750 (most of which, according to the provincial data dashboard, are already in arms or being held for a second dose). That’s a shortfall of 25,050 doses.
Although the province released numbers for March back in January, Strang has repeatedly stated since then that we don’t really know how many vaccines we’ll be getting until about two weeks beforehand.
“This isn’t ideal, but we have planned for this type of scenario,” he said on January 19. “And I want to ensure Nova Scotians that we are developing flexible processes.”
On top of manufacturing delays, the Canadian government has re-allocated some Moderna doses from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to be used in the northern territories. Strang says the provincial government didn’t have any say in this, but it understands the rationale due to the challenges of rising case counts in isolated communities.
Even this far behind, Strang still has hopes we’ll get back on track. At the February 16 briefing, he said the province will be vaccinating up to 12,000 people a day by April to meet our herd immunity target by the end of September.