Alberta's Phase 1 vaccination rollout slowed over Pfizer supply issues

On Friday, the federal government announced shipments from Pfizer, one of the two manufacturers of vaccines approved for use in Canada, will be reduced until the middle of February. 

Pfizer temporarily reducing vaccine deliveries to Canada

Registered nurse Kristen Davis was the first in Grande Prairie to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23. (Chris Beauchamp/Alberta Health Services)

Alberta will have to delay vaccinating people on its priority list after learning about a temporary reduction in Canada's supply of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19. 

On Friday, the federal government announced shipments from Pfizer, one of the two manufacturers of vaccines approved for use in Canada, will be reduced until mid-February. 

The pharmaceutical company is temporarily cutting production in order to upgrade manufacturing capacity at its facility in Belgium. The change affects all countries that receive their vaccines from that facility.

While Alberta is awaiting new allotment numbers, Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the province's vaccination rollout will be slowed until supplies ramp up again. 

"It will take longer to complete immunization of the priority health-care workers who are currently part of Phase 1," Shandro said at a news conference Friday afternoon. 

"It will also delay our ability to start immunizing all seniors over the age of 75, regardless of where they live and all Indigenous seniors who are 65 years and older."

Residents of long-term care and designated supported living, people who work in those facilities and home care are part of the first phase of the vaccine rollout. 

Health-care workers who work in intensive care medical and surgical units, COVID-19 units, operating room and emergency departments, respiratory therapists, paramedics and EMTs are also included of the first phase. 

Seniors over 75 and Indigenous seniors over 65 are in the second part of the Phase 1 rollout. Shandro said he hoped to announce the start of those vaccinations but that is now delayed. 

Alberta is also receiving shipments of vaccines from Moderna, which is better suited for use in more remote areas of the province as it doesn't require storage in special low-temperature freezers. 

Despite the changes, Shandro said the province still expects everyone in those categories to receive their vaccines by the end of March. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw.,Alberta's chief medical officer of health, did not hold a media availability on Friday, but used social media to address why Alberta isn't holding back second doses of the Pfizer vaccine. 

While a second dose is necessary, Hinshaw said even a single dose offers protection against COVID-19 for 92 per cent of people over several weeks. 

"Holding back second doses for everyone who receives the first would mean we immunize thousands of fewer Albertans," she wrote on Twitter. "Doses would be sitting in freezers when they could be helping protect those in need and health-care workers."

"Instead, we are continually monitoring our supply and forecast delivery schedule to account for the second doses needed. This planning occurs every day, around the clock. It's based on continual updates and discussion with our partners on expected supply."

Alberta started its vaccination program on Dec.14. So far, about 74,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered.