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What the vaccine plateau means for Phase 4 opening

The penultimate reopening state could begin next week—if 75% of NS has at least one dose.

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Nova Scotia, so far, has moved through its COVID reopening phases with little problem. We’ve passed each test with flying colours, outperforming our own expectations for vaccination levels and infection counts, and started each of the first three phases on the best-case schedule.

But with Phase 4 expected to begin in the province as early as Wednesday, July 14, Nova Scotia may not advance as easily.

Currently, the province sits at 73.5 percent of the population having received at least one dose—nearly half of those people now being fully vaccinated with two doses—for a total of over a million shots in arms. That’s among the highest rates in Canada, although in recent weeks first-dose uptake has slowed to the point that Nova Scotia seems to have reached a plateau.

“Hundreds of people are still getting their first doses every day, which is really encouraging to me,” said chief medical officer of health Robert Strang on Wednesday, July 7 in a COVID-19 press briefing. “Yesterday, 1,400 people did just that, and these are numbers we need to see continue.”

But to move into Phase 4, the standard the province set for itself is having 75 percent of people with at least their first dose, a number we are currently short of by 14,000 shots. In other words, we’d need over 2,300 jabs in arms every day between now and next Wednesday to make it. That’s nearly double our current rolling average, which sits at around 1,250 new first-dose recipients a day.

“I still continue to focus on getting through Phase 3 right now,” said premier Iain Rankin during Wednesday’s presser. “We’re still not at the point where we can guarantee the start of Phase 4.”

So what if we don’t hit the target? Strang has made his stance pretty clear in the past: Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Do not gather in groups of up to 25.

However, this time around, Strang said that the province has already effectively hit its target, because 75 percent of people have booked their first dose appointments. But he couldn’t confirm that those appointments will all take place by July 14.

“We know the numbers are in there,” he said. “And adding those numbers gets us to our 75 percent target.”

Strang also revealed there’s another group of people who’ve been vaccinated who will add “at least one percent” to the total—over 8,000 members of the military.

“At a national level, the decision was made by the Canadian Armed Forces to run their own vaccinations program,” he said. “So they’ve been doing that for the last few months.”

These people haven’t been included yet in the province’s data dashboard, because the province and the military had to figure out how to mesh private health information with public statistics. But Strang says at this point it’s all a matter of data entry to update the numbers to reflect what’s already been done.

“Today we are at 75 percent,” he said Wednesday. “We have a chunk of data coming from our military colleagues, which is just going through the process of data entry so it appears on our provincial dashboard.”

If Strang is comfortable that the province has reached the target—no matter what the dashboard shows—Phase 4 has probably cleared that particular hurdle. But Strang is not comfortable with the idea of stopping at 75 percent.

“That’s just a target, a minimum target. We need to keep adding to and building that every day,” he said. “So while we’re celebrating that today, we can’t take a sigh of relief right now. We still have more work to do.”

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