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Snapshot effect clouds Newfoundland and Labrador’s COVID-19 vaccine performance

Health Minister John Haggie talks to reporters in this 2020 file photo.
Health Minister John Haggie talks to reporters in this 2020 file photo. - SaltWire Network File Photo

Despite criticisms, premier and health minister insist province is on par with the rest of the country

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The data suggests we are, the politicians say we’re not, and the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.

Since COVID-19 vaccinations began to roll out in Canada in December 2020, various data sets have put Newfoundland and Labrador consistently near the bottom of the heap when it comes to doses administered per capita.

COVID-19 Tracker Canada (covid19tracker.ca), a non-profit database run out of the University of Saskatchewan, frequently shows Newfoundland above only Nova Scotia when it comes to the number of doses administered per 100,000 population.


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However, it rates a little higher when it comes to percentage of doses administered compared to total shipped to the province.

Part of the discrepancy comes from the fact that the Atlantic provinces and the territories only report vaccination figures once a week, which means vaccinations given will temporarily lag behind total doses available.

Other provinces usually give daily statistics.

On March 20, the Canadian Press reported Newfoundland and Labrador had used 69.3 per cent of doses available. That was way ahead of Nova Scotia at 48.7 per cent, and higher than New Brunswick, Manitoba and the territories.

The larger provinces — Ontario, Quebec and Alberta — are consistently above the 80 per cent mark.



Defending record

In January, shortly before Newfoundland and Labrador began posting vaccination numbers online, the founder of the COVID-19 tracker said he had to rely on local media reports to get statistics from this province.

“Newfoundland has been one of the worst provinces for transparency with their vaccine data,” Noah Little told The Telegram.

“It's been quite interesting to see the range of transparency in data between provinces through this whole process.”

At the time, Health Minister Dr. John Haggie and Premier Andrew Furey disagreed with the assessment.

“I would argue that we’ve been very diligent in providing what information we have in a way that is understandable and easily accessible for folk in the province,” Haggie said.

“There is nothing to hide here, I assure you,” Furey added.


Andrew Furey - SaltWire Network
Andrew Furey - SaltWire Network


This week, the pair again defended the province’s numbers.

“A lot of it is down to a variety of factors,” Haggie said.

Transportation and bad weather are among them.

”We’ve had clinics cancelled in the Port aux Basques area, for example. We had a two-day weather hold for the coast of Labrador,” he said.

He said the percentage delivered fluctuates between 60 and 95 per cent, depending on the day.

“That is not at all outside what you see in other jurisdictions.”

Haggie also cited the problem of paper record keeping in some rural areas, which slows the input of statistics, as well as the fact there are two or three streams of electronic numbers that have to be merged into one.

In November, however, Haggie told the CBC the paper record problem had been addressed after the broadcaster uncovered a July 2020 briefing note that said the lack of a provincial vaccine registry was an “urgent requirement."

Haggie said last fall’s flu vaccination was a dry run for the new system.

"We're not there yet, but we've got the flu sorted out," Haggie told CBC. "We'll be ready for COVID."


 - Reuters
- Reuters


Territory of N.L.

Haggie has said Newfoundland and Labrador is more of a territory than a province, referring to the challenges of a large geographical expanse and low population.

Vaccination statistics in the territories have actually fluctuated considerably over time, likely fuelled by similar challenges.

As of Good Friday, however, the COVID-19 tracker had the Yukon and Northwest Territories on top of the charts with almost 85,000 doses delivered per 100,000 population.

Newfoundland and Labrador's number is 13,407. The Canadian average is 15,683.

On Wednesday, Haggie said he is open to new ideas as to how to better present the province’s numbers.

The Telegram subsequently emailed the department to suggest they take a recent period of time and aggregate numbers from that period to give a fairer picture of vaccination rates that avoids the snapshot effect.

A reply was not received before the long weekend.

As for Nova Scotia, it had a problem in early March when a booking website kept crashing.

Otherwise, there’s little to indicate why that province appears to be consistently underperforming.

Last month, based on a questionnaire sent to Public Health offices across Canada, Global News asked experts to rate the vaccine rollout of territories and provinces.

Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network hospitals in Toronto, called Newfoundland “mystery island” for its lack of transparency on vaccination plans, and said Nova Scotia appears to lack the same zeal as other provinces.


Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health for The Telegram
[email protected] 
Twitter: @pjackson_nl


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