OHS Canada Magazine

N.S. pauses use of AstraZeneca vaccine, launches paid sick leave program

Program is for sick days taken between May 10 and July 31 and covers wages up to $160 a day


By Danielle Edwards

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia has become the latest province to pause the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, citing concerns about the rare but serious blood clotting syndrome that has been potentially linked to the vaccine’s use.

Provincial health officials said the move is based on “an abundance of caution” and on the fact Nova Scotia has enough other vaccines to immunize people age 40 and older. It joins provinces including Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec in backing away from use of AstraZeneca.

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Chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang told reporters Wednesday those who had appointments for an AstraZeneca vaccine will be contacted by their clinics to book a new appointment for either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Those who have had one AstraZeneca dose will need to wait, however, on guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, he added.

Premier Iain Rankin said the province is waiting to learn results of an international study on whether AstraZeneca can be mixed with other vaccines.

There have been no reports of blood clots linked to the vaccine in the province, Strang said, and there are about 2,500 remaining AstraZeneca doses on ice as they wait for word from NACI.

Rankin said residents had already voiced a preference for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, leading to the cancellation of more than 1,000 appointments for AstraZeneca. “It’s difficult for me to think of saying no to any vaccine, but my goal as your premier is to get everyone immunized as quickly as possible,” Rankin said.

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Meanwhile, the province reported 149 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, most of which were in the region that includes Halifax. Strang said a testing backlog has now been cleared, and there are early signs lockdown measures imposed last month are beginning to make a difference.

Despite lower daily numbers, Nova Scotia Health announced Wednesday the activation of a provincial plan to increase intensive care capacity. The health agency said some ICU patients, both with and without COVID-19, have been transferred from the Halifax region to the northern and western health regions. It did not specify how many patients were transferred but said it was fewer than five.

“While a spike in hospital admissions for COVID-19 was expected this week based on recent positive test numbers, so far the proportion of those patients requiring intensive care has been higher than anticipated,” the agency said in a news release. “These patients are most often otherwise healthy people, not the frail, older patients we saw admitted last spring.” It said 20 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care in the province Wednesday, with 15 of them in the Halifax region.

Paid sick leave program launched

Nova Scotia also announced the launch of a new $16-million paid sick leave program. Rankin said people who miss less than 50 per cent of their work week in a one-week period due to COVID-19 may be eligible for up to four paid days. That includes people who are getting tested, isolating while waiting on test results or getting vaccinated.

The program is for sick days taken between May 10 and July 31 and covers wages up to $160 a day. Rankin said the goal of the program is to eliminate possible infection in the workplace.

“If someone is symptomatic and they think they might miss just two or three days, I think that some of them may take a risk and go to work for financial reasons,” Rankin said. The province said the program complements the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which may apply after an employee has been off for 50 per cent or more of their scheduled work week.

Rankin also responded to questions surrounding a letter from a civil liberties group that called Nova Scotia’s boundary closure “unconstitutional.”

Cara Faith Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote a letter dated May 11 to Rankin and Strang saying the order violates mobility rights guaranteed in the charter and should be scrapped.

The premier closed the province’s boundaries to the rest of the country on Monday to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and said the restrictions will be in effect until at least the end of May.

Travellers to Nova Scotia can apply for an exception if they have a property purchase agreement or one-year lease agreement dated on or before April 21, with a closing date on or before May 20.

People moving into the province may also be eligible for an exception if they have a letter of employment dated May 7 at the latest, for jobs that can’t be done virtually or deferred.

Rankin said the province had done its due diligence in preparing for the closure and is confident the measures respect the Constitution.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.