Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all contacts of previously known cases, as the province ramps up vaccine rollout.
There have also been 57 new recoveries, the highest single-day total since the pandemic hit the province last March. All but one of the recoveries are in the Eastern Health region, while the remaining recovery is in the Western Health region.
There are 149 active cases, and nine people are in hospital due to the virus.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald noted the province has had several days in a row with only epidemiologically linked cases — cases that are linked to previously known cases.
“This is good news, really, and indicates that we are heading in the right direction,” she said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing.
“Our testing numbers are down somewhat, which could indicate that there are fewer contacts and fewer people who are symptomatic. It shows that people are staying home and following public health guidance.”
To date, 113,503 people have been tested, including 245 since Tuesday’s update.
Vaccine effort will have ‘significant boost’
Fitzgerald also said the province will extend the time first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four months, with evidence suggesting that the first dose provides significant protection.
“Current evidence is suggesting high vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease and hospitalization for several weeks after the first dose of vaccine,” she said.
Given the evidence and the province’s limited vaccine supply, said Fitzgerald, the province will be extending the time between doses to four months, up from three weeks for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and four weeks for the Moderna vaccine.
“This will allow us to protect close to 40,000 extra people with one dose of a highly effective vaccine by the end of March,” she said.
Watch the full March 3 update:
Fitzgerald said Health Canada’s approval of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine will “significantly boost” inoculation efforts. She said all provinces and territories will receive their first shipments next week.
“Newfoundland and Labrador will receive about 7,000 doses initially, and we intend to start administering as soon as they arrive,” she said.
The new vaccines and longer intervals between doses will mean the province can inoculate priority groups faster, Fitzgerald said, and provide a greater level of community protection sooner.
She said the province is still looking at who will benefit most from the first AstraZeneca-Oxford shots, and a plan is still being worked through.
As for those who are waiting on their second doses, or those with family members in congregate living facilities and long-term care homes, Fitzgerald said the more people who are protected, the more protected we all are.
“Allowing us to get more people protected will actually be of more benefit to their loved ones in congregate living settings, and making sure our society is protected faster is certainly going to help in the long run,” she said.
Fitzgerald said anyone waiting on a second dose will follow the new extension.
Vaccine shipments increasing: Furey
Premier Andrew Furey said shipments of vaccine are increasing, which accelerate the province’s rollout plan.
“Our goal, here at home, is simple — get everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador their first vaccination as quickly as possible,” Furey said.
Furey said the province is on track to have more than 80,000 people vaccinated by the end of the month.
“It’s running at less than 50 per cent, and that’s without involving our other partners such as our pharmacists and family physicians who stand ready to join in should we find ourselves in the lucky situation of having even more extra vaccine,” he said.
“We have stockpiled and pre-staged syringes and supplies necessary for administering the vaccine through the regional health authorities, and there’s no supply limit on PPE for people called upon to administer the vaccine.”
Haggie said more than 46,000 people, out of an eligible population of around 76,000, had pre-registered to have their first shot of vaccine as of Tuesday night.