Alberta government falls far short of goal to vaccinate 29,000 people against COVID-19 by year's end

Alberta will fall far short of the UCP government’s promise to vaccinate 29,000 people against COVID-19 by the end of the year, Premier Jason Kenney has acknowledged.

It's unclear why doses were held back despite health minister's assurance they wouldn't be

Sahra Kaahiye, a respiratory therapist in Edmonton, became the first Albertan to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, on Dec. 15, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta will fall far short of the UCP government's promise to vaccinate 29,000 people against COVID-19 by the end of the year, Premier Jason Kenney says.

Instead, Kenney admitted at a news conference on Tuesday that Alberta was going to miss its vaccination targets — by a lot.

He said an estimated 7,000 people would be given the first of the two required shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of Tuesday, and another 4,000 people would receive it in the next few days.

Two weeks earlier, on Dec. 14, Health Minister Tyler Shandro told Albertans: "We're going to give the first dose of vaccine to 29,000 health-care professionals by the end of December." 

The premier said some doses of the first shipment of vaccine were held back by Alberta Health Services to administer the second dose in a two-dose protocol.

Alberta Health Services spokesperson James Wood said officials were keeping doses in reserve because of uncertainty about the timing of future shipments, but that that policy has now changed.

"With supply becoming more available and schedules being firmer, AHS is doing everything possible to vaccinate as many people as possible with the available vaccines," he said in an email to CBC News.

The Opposition NDP says the situation shows that the UCP government is mismanaging the rollout of the vaccines.

"The premier sold the people of Alberta hope in the form of the vaccine, and he was very quick to drive to the airport and stand beside the plane," said NDP health critic David Shepherd. 

"And what we see now is that even though he promised those doses would be in the arms of health-care workers by the end of 2020, he has not even met a quarter of that target."

Kenney said the government has now directed AHS to schedule as many vaccinations as possible on New Year's Day, which had not originally been the plan.

"And so we hope to start catching up toward that goal," he said.

At Tuesday's news conference, Shandro also appeared to contradict his earlier statement concerning whether the initial 29,000 shots were to be given to any Albertan or exclusively to health-care workers.

When asked Tuesday about the number of health-care staff who would be inoculated by year's end, Shandro indicated it wasn't being restricted to health-care workers.

"Just to correct one thing, I think you said 29,000 health-care workers, and the number was 29,000 Albertans, so just to correct you there," he said.

872 new cases Tuesday

The news comes as the province reported another 872 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, for a total of 14,785 active cases and a positivity rate of 7.7 per cent over 11,006 tests.

There are 890 people in hospital, 153 of whom are in intensive care.

Case numbers have been decreasing, in part due to fewer tests completed over the holidays, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday, but the positivity rate and hospitalizations have remained high. 

Alberta's COVID-19 death toll had surpassed a grim benchmark of 1,000 on Monday as the province reported 112 additional deaths over a five-day period.

1st shipment of Moderna vaccine arrives in Alberta

Kenney also said at Tuesday's news conference that the first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Alberta on Tuesday and would be given as soon as possible to residents and staff in long-term care centres.

The initial 16,900 doses of the vaccine are to be sent to long-term care facilities in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, St. Paul and Fort Saskatchewan, Kenney said.

The first dose was given to a resident of the Riverview Care Centre in Medicine Hat on Wednesday.

The Moderna vaccine will also be offered to residents at six congregate living facilities on First Nations reserves, the province said in a news release.

The provincial vaccine depot will also receive vaccine for further distribution to rural and remote communities.

"The arrival of the vaccine does not mean the pandemic is over," Kenney said.

With files from Janet French, Elissa Carpenter


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