Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS

First New Brunswick vaccinations begin at nursing home in Miramichi

MIRAMICHI, N.B. — New Brunswick started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Saturday with the inoculation of long-term care facility residents and health workers.

Pauline Gauvin, an 84-year-old resident of Shannex Losier Hall in Miramichi, was the first recipient of the vaccine.

Gauvin told the health worker who provided the injection she felt comfortable with needles, and, after asking what her next step was, she was informed she could go back to the waiting area.

“(I’ll) go mix with the crowd,” she said, smiling.

New Brunswick is the last province in the country to begin its vaccination campaign.

It plans to inoculate 1,950 people with their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, to be followed by a second shot three weeks later.

Greg McCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, has said the vaccinations were planned for the weekend to take advantage of the availability of residents from the long-term care facility, as well as health-care workers in the area.

Dr. Carl Boucher, an emergency physician who received the vaccine on Saturday, had traveled on his day off from Caraquet, N.B., where he works at the Hopital de l’Enfant-Jesus.

He said he felt proud to be the first doctor in the province to receive the vaccine.

“It feels like the start of the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said in a telephone interview.

It’s a relief to know he’s no longer likely to bring COVID-19 into the hospital, or to bring it from the hospital to his family and communities.

“We need to show the general public that health-care workers and doctors are behind this vaccination,” said the 37-year-old emergency physician.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health for the province, toured the medical facility where the vaccinations were occurring and met people receiving their shots.

She estimated more than 150 people were involved in providing the shots over the weekend, ranging from people to directing traffic to people providing the shots.

“It definitely is a historic moment. It represents a first step in a longer journey towards vaccinating the majority of the population and the rest of Canada,” she said.

The public health doctor said there will be priority given to long-term care residents and health workers in the first weeks in New Brunswick.

She said once the Moderna vaccine is approved, this will add to the available doses. She added it’s expected that seven different vaccines will be available over the year to come.

“We expect 60 to 70 per cent of the province’s population will be vaccinated by September (2021),” she said.

“It probably won’t be until we get more of the different vaccines in larger quantities that we can move down the list of priority groups … and that will probably all happen between July and September.”

The rollout coming in the summer and the fall will look more like a general flu inoculation campaign, with fewer staff and less complex storage required, said Russell.

The province has accepted an offer from the owner of a bluefin tuna exporting company in eastern Prince Edward Island for a loan of two freezers that can store the first vaccine, which has to be kept below -70 C.

Russell said protocols are now in place to collect information on any adverse reactions to the pandemic, and she said she expects that information will be made public in New Brunswick.

“We’re making sure there is a very rigid process for reporting any adverse events and making sure that data is captured and provided,” she said.

New Brunswick reported no new cases of COVID-19 Friday.