Alberta's COVID-19 response a race between variants and vaccinations, Dr. Deena Hinshaw says
11 per cent of active cases in Alberta are variants of concern
The rising number of variant cases in Alberta continues to be a concern for health officials in the province, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday.
Alberta's chief medical officer of health said 11 per cent of active COVID-19 cases in the province are linked to three variants of the virus.
"While we've prevented any significant spread in Alberta so far, the percentage of variants in our active cases is rising," Hinshaw said.
"The toll that variants have taken on the U.K., Italy and other countries are a cautionary tale that we must continue to take very seriously."
The province has 4,776 active cases with 509 of them linked to variant cases of COVID-19. Almost all variant cases are the strain first identified in the U.K. Sixteen are the strain first identified in South Africa, while two are the strain first recorded in Brazil.
There have been 1,047 cases of variants of concerned identified, with 524 people having recovered and 14 dying. Churchill Manor in Edmonton, which is experiencing a coronavirus variant outbreak, has seen nine deaths, though it's not clear how many of the deaths were variant cases.
The province reported 355 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, 62 of those related to variant strains, with 260 people in hospital with the disease and 44 of those in intensive care.
Three more deaths were reported Tuesday including a man in his 40s in the Calgary zone, a woman in her 90s in the Edmonton zone and another woman in her 90s in the south zone.
All positive tests screened for variants
The province is screening every positive case for variants, which have a higher decree of infectiousness, and now has a surge capacity of screening up to 1,000 samples per day if needed, Hinshaw said.
"In some ways there is a race between the variants and the vaccines," she said. "We need to limit the spread of these variants and all other strains of COVID-19 while we work over the next several months to immunize Albertans who are most vulnerable to ending up in hospital and other severe outcomes.
"Our aggressive screening, dedicated contact tracing and other measures have been buying time for the vaccines to work."
While it is still unknown how the vaccines will work against all variants, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines are effective against the B117 variant of concern that is most common in Alberta, Hinshaw said.
As the Moderna vaccine works in a similar way to Pfizer, she expects it to be as effective.
"This is yet another reason why getting immunized against COVID-19 is so important," she said. "It will protect you, those close to you and your entire community.
"I know that we are all tired of COVID and tired of the restrictions, but the next few months will be absolutely critical. The health measures in place work against variants; it's just up to us to keep on following them."
1 million vaccinations
On Monday, Hinshaw announced the next phases of the vaccination plan which will see more than a million people inoculated in less than three months.
This week, Albertans born in 1956 or earlier are eligible to book an appointment for a vaccine under Phase 2A of the rollout, along with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people born before or during 1971.
By Tuesday afternoon, 17,300 Albertans had booked appointments since the Phase 2A launch Monday morning.
The province has also announced plans for Phase 2B of the vaccine rollout, expected to begin in April and affecting about 660,000 Albertans who have one of the underlying health problems detailed on an extensive list of medical concerns.
Phase 2B will be run on an honour system with no doctor notes required.
Queue jumpers should know that by taking vaccine one is not eligible for puts at risk somebody who needs it more, Hinshaw said Tuesday.
"We know that when an individual goes to get their vaccine, they will be asked if they have a chronic condition. So again, they will be directly required to make that statement, so that's again an opportunity for them to consider whether or not they actually meet those criteria.
"If somebody is not sure, there's an opportunity for them to talk to their health-care provider to determine whether or not they have a condition that in fact does put them at risk."
Phase 2C will include about 400,000 health-care professionals such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and health support staff, as well as designated support persons for those living in continuing care or congregate-living spaces like prisons.
So far, 380,000 doses of vaccine have been administered in Alberta.
In April, community physicians will begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine, the province said in a news release Tuesday. About 1,100 physicians in 185 clinics will create additional capacity for 14,000 daily doses, as supply allows.