Calgary

One bit of good news in Alberta's recent COVID data: Cases are down among those aged 80+

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Alberta and variants of concern have been gaining a stronger foothold in the province. But there has also been one spot of good news in the recent data — infection rates among the most vulnerable age group have been on the decline.

The most vaccinated age group has seen its infection rates fall while cases rise among everyone else

Karl Kuhnlein, 90, wore a party hat to celebrate his vaccination on Feb. 24, 2021. The vast majority of Albertans over the age of 80 have now been vaccinated, and their case numbers have been trending down while cases among all other age groups have grown. (Alberta Health Services)

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Alberta and variants of concern have been gaining a stronger foothold in the province. But there has been a spot of good news in the recent data — infection rates among the most vulnerable age group have been on the decline.

Back in January, people aged 80 and over had the highest rate of new infections.

But that rate has dropped precipitously since, as more and more seniors have been vaccinated against the disease.

In recent weeks, the downward trend has continued, even as case rates have climbed in every other age group.

"The continued decline in cases among Albertans age 80 and older is very encouraging," said Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan.

"This reflects both the fact that the public health measures have worked to limit spread to older Albertans, and that vaccines have a tremendous protective effect for those who are most at risk."

Alberta started rolling out vaccinations in December to senior citizens and workers at long-term care homes and designated supportive living facilities.

Residents at these types of facilities account for roughly 65 per cent of the total COVID-19 deaths in Alberta to date.

There are roughly 140,000 people aged 80-plus living in Alberta and, as of Monday, more than 113,000 of them had received at least one dose of vaccine.

That's nearly 80 per cent.

Many seniors in this age group are also among the small proportion of Albertans who are considered fully immunized, with two doses of vaccine.

As of Tuesday, roughly 12 per cent of people in the province — of all ages — had received at least one dose of vaccine, while just over two per cent had been fully vaccinated.

Variants vs. vaccine

At the same time, variants of concern — particularly the B117 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom — have been spreading in Alberta.

In recent days, variants have accounted for roughly a third of new cases identified across the province.

In Ontario, where B117 dominates and variants are now estimated to account for two-thirds of new cases, a recent report highlighted several increased risks those variants bring.

Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table shows that, compared with strains of the coronavirus that were dominant earlier in the pandemic, new variants are associated with:

  • 60 per cent increased risk of hospitalization.
  • 100 per cent increased risk of being admitted to an ICU.
  • 56 per cent increased risk of death.

Public health officials have cautioned that, while older people still tend to be more vulnerable, the new variants of concern present a higher risk to younger people, as well.

Last week, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said almost half of the COVID-19 patients in hospital — and almost 90 per cent of those in intensive care units (ICU) — were 65 or younger.

The number of patients in ICU fluctuates day by day but has been trending upward for most of the past month, growing from a low of 33 in early March to a peak of 67 in late March. As of Tuesday, there were 58 patients in ICU.

McMillan said vaccinations continue to roll out as quickly as possible but "there's still a long way to go" before all 4.3 million Albertans can be offered a first dose.

"The fact that cases are not rising in Albertans age 80+, but are rising in other age groups, is a reminder of both the power of vaccines but also that we are not out of the woods yet," he said.

"It will take a few more months to offer a first dose of vaccine to all adult Albertans, which is why we all must continue following the measures in place for a little while longer."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robson Fletcher

Data Journalist

Robson Fletcher's work for CBC Calgary focuses on data, analysis and investigative journalism. He joined CBC in 2015 after spending the previous decade working as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba.

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