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A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Northwood Care facility, in Halifax, on Jan. 11, 2021.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

An 85-year-old resident of a Halifax long-term care home that was devastated by COVID-19 broke into a slight smile after she was asked how it felt to receive her long-awaited vaccination.

Audrey Wiseman said she was excited to be among the first of 385 residents at the Northwood long-term care facility to get the first of two doses of the Moderna vaccine, as Nova Scotia expanded the first phase of its immunization program on Monday.

Fifty-three of the province’s 65 pandemic-linked deaths occurred at Northwood’s Halifax campus after an outbreak raged through the facility last spring.

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“I won’t be able to get the COVID I hope,” Wiseman said after getting her shot. “That means a lot, because I saw quite a few that had it and didn’t quite come through it.”

Ann Hicks, 77, said she was “absolutely delighted” to get her dose of vaccine. Hicks said she had been isolated on a floor where many residents were hit by the virus although she had managed to avoid becoming infected.

“I realize this is a start to preventing me from getting COVID,” Hicks said. “I’m grateful in getting it and I will do anything to co-operate with Northwood in keeping us safe.”

Josie Ryan, executive director of Northwood’s long-term care program, said it’s expected the majority of residents of the Halifax campus will be vaccinated by the end of the week. Ryan pointed out that 591 staff at the facility have been in the process of being immunized since Dec. 14.

She said despite the vaccine program it will likely be another six to eight months before strict precautions at the facility can be eased.

“I think it gives us a sense of safety especially after what we went through in the spring,” Ryan said. “I really hope it brings us back to being a place where people are able to live free.”

Meanwhile, another vaccination clinic opened Monday at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, while the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville, N.S., is set to begin vaccinations this week. Each facility is scheduled to receive 1,950 doses of vaccine.

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In Cape Breton, the first person to receive the vaccine from outside the Halifax area was Darlene White, a licensed practical nurse in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit.

“Hopefully we are going to get back to, I guess, what we call the new normal,” White said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be back to what we were in past years, but I think this is the first step.”

Erin Guy, a registered nurse at the hospital, said getting her vaccination felt no different than getting a yearly flu shot. Guy said she felt a sense of relief, adding that the pandemic has been stressful for her family given her job in health care.

“It just feels safer, more comfortable at work and living your daily life,” she said.

Last week, health officials said another 2,925 doses would be shipped this week to the Colchester East Hants Health Centre, with a clinic to begin there next Monday.

The province also said it expected to receive a combined total of 140,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines by the end of March – enough to immunize 75,000 people.

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Nova Scotia received a combined 9,550 doses in December, with 2,720 doses of the Pfizer vaccine administered to front-line health workers in the Halifax area and another 2,720 reserved for a second dose, while 3,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine were reserved for long-term care facilities.

Premier Stephen McNeil said Monday in a news release the province’s vaccine rollout was taking an important step.

“Our health-care professionals are working hard to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible,” McNeil said. “We can support them by being patient and continuing to follow all the public health measures that help us contain the virus.”

Nova Scotia reported five new cases of COVID-19 Monday and now has 26 active cases.

Dr. Kanna Vela has been treating COVID-19 patients in emergency departments in Ajax and Scarborough, Ontario for nearly 10 months. She lived apart from her family at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Receiving her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in late December has given Dr. Vela some hope for the months ahead as hospitals struggle to care for the rise in COVID-19 cases.

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