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Vaccination uptake slows down as NS hits vax ceiling

Nova Scotia has Canada's best vaccine rate, but may stall before reaching the 75% target.

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Nova Scotia has gone from worst to first in vaccinations against COVID-19. For months after the Canadian vaccine rollout began in December, the province had the country's lowest vax rate, but during May and June it injected so many people that the latest federal data (from June 19) shows the province has Canada's highest percentage of population with at least one dose, at 70.18 percent. But Nova Scotia's vaccination success has brought it to a new problem: reaching the limit of the population that is eager to get vaccinated.

“First we got good, now we get fast” is the way chief medical officer of health Robert Strang said it would work back in April, when the province's vaccination effort was still Canada's laughing stock. (Click to watch the national vax rate race in an animated chart from The Coast.) And the following graph shows just how fast things were moving in June.

Key here are the "Average/projected" vaccination rate and the actual "At least one dose" rate, aiming for the 75 percent herd immunity target. At the beginning of the June, the projected rate is calculated as the average of the actual rate—and both are climbing as the province vaccinates a lot of people who have never been vaccinated before. But around June 13, the actual rate of the population with at least one dose starts to drop. Instead of going steadily up, it slows down then, on June 20, starts leveling off, hitting a vax ceiling at a bit over 72 percent vaccinated.

That's a shame, because at the rate it was going, the projection shows Nova Scotia would have passed the 75 percent target a week ago.

Converting a person from unvaccinated to having a dose of vaccine increases the percentage of the population with at least one dose; a person with one dose getting their second dose doesn't move that needle, so to speak. Around the start of June, the vaccinated population number was going up more than one percent per day on average. Looking at the latest numbers on the graph—from Monday, June 21 to Sunday, June 27—it went from 71.42 percent to 72.40 percent, not quite one percent. Nova Scotia was reaching more unvaccinated people in one day at the start of June than it's reaching in a week at the end of the month!

The gap between 72 percent and 100 percent vaccinated is made up of two kinds of people—those who are eligible to get vaccinated but haven't done it yet, and people who are ineligible. The latter group includes the young (so far, Health Canada has only authorized vaccines for use in people aged 12 and older) and people with some kind of medical condition that precludes vaccination. They aren't going to help Nova Scotia reach the vaccination target.

The other group includes those who are vaccine willing but haven't gotten around to it getting it yet; people who are vaccine hesitant for various reasons; and active, committed anti-vaxxers. Making it to 75 percent from 72 percent means motivating almost 30,000 of these people to get vaccinated.

“Like anything you get those most willing, then the last 25 percent are always going to be the hardest," Strang said at last Thursday's COVID briefing with premier Rankin. "We still have work to do."

Strang explained that the vaccine rollout will be reaching out to the unvaccinated in a variety of ways. Among these, he again mentioned large employers such as Michelin: “The group we’re most concerned about is the males 16-to-30 years old. So let’s bring the vaccine to them in those workplaces.” He also said first-dose walk-ins will be allowed at the new Convention Centre clinic (from his conversations with universities, Strang thinks this easy vax access will be especially helpful for international students).

“It’s very natural that this last 20-to-25 percent slows down, but that’s why we’re going to keep pushing out," he said. "Because we can’t be satisfied with 75 percent.”

NOTE: The following graph shows the entire history of Nova Scotia's vaccine rollout, and unlike this story is frequently updated. With any luck you will be reading this at a date in the future when the vaccination rate is past the 75 percent target.

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