All Albertans aged 12 and older will be eligible for vaccines by Monday, premier says
Kenney hopes stepped-up vaccinations, restrictions keep ICUs out of 'red zone'
All Albertans aged 12 and up can be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting Monday in a major step forward for the provincial rollout.
The announcement, made by Premier Jason Kenney at a Wednesday news conference, reflects Health Canada's statement from earlier in the morning that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is safe for children at 12 years of age and older.
"This is a major milestone in our vaccine rollout," Kenney said, "and it comes right when we need it most."
The rollout will be implemented in two steps. Starting Thursday, vaccination appointments will be opened to Albertans aged 30 and up, then on Monday it will expand to include people aged 12 and older.
"With this, another 1.3 million Albertans are now eligible for the vaccine," Kenney said. "Outside of the northern territories, Alberta is the first province to offer vaccine to everybody 12 years of age and older, no matter where they live or what medical conditions they might have."
The news came one day after Kenney announced sweeping new public-health measures that include online learning for all Alberta students, closures of restaurants and bars to in-person dining and limiting outdoor gatherings to five people.
Without stepped-up public-health measures to lessen the impact of a surging third wave of COVID-19 infections, Kenney said the province's acute-care system would likely be overwhelmed within a month.
Province could reach 'red zone' by early June
Currently, Alberta hospitals are treating about 670 COVID-19 patients, including 150 in ICU beds.
"We have another 60 non-COVID ICU patients, so 210," the premier said. "On a typical day in a non-COVID year, we would have about 190 staffed ICU beds across our 100 hospitals in Alberta."
Alberta Health Services has expanded its maximum capacity, allowing it to handle the current load, but Kenney said they won't be able to do that if the number of COVID-19 cases continue to go up. "Particularly not if the growth, the spread of the virus, accelerates."
WATCH | Kenney on the possibility of Alberta ICUs reaching 'red zone':
Currently, the caseload is growing at 1.8 per cent a day, which would see 30,000 active cases in the province by the middle of May and perhaps 40,000 active cases by the end of the month, he said.
"When you take that number and apply the ratio of cases-to-hospitalizations, you end up moving into the red zone in terms of ICU capacity, of well over 300 ICU patients with COVID in early June."
Kenney said if the province moves into that red zone — which he defined as being within 20 per cent of maximum ICU capacity — it would require the mass cancellation of most surgeries and moving people into overflow facilities, such as the field hospital at the University of Alberta Butterdome.
"I'm trying to be very specific with you here, so there's no B.S. involved in this," Kenney said. "Our stretch capacity is 425 COVID ICU beds. But let's be clear. We can only open up those beds, those staffed beds, by massively cancelling surgeries and other health-care procedures, the cost of which would be very high and also frankly would also likely cost lives.
"So the bottom line is this: Based on current trends ... if we continue to experience 1.8 per cent daily growth in cases, as we have over the past few days, then we move into the red zone, I would call it, in early June."
'Albertans are tired'
Health Minister Tyler Shandro took the opportunity to thank Albertans in advance for doing their part to follow public-health guidelines in the weeks ahead.
"I know that Albertans are tired, including everyone who's followed the rules and worked to stop the spread," he said. "But if we all work together to embrace these restrictions we will get this final wave of COVID under control."
The province announced on Tuesday that starting on May 7 all kindergarten to Grade 12 students across Alberta will move to online learning for two weeks. Other measures announced on Tuesday will be in place for three weeks.
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Kenney said he hopes that during those three weeks the COVID-19 numbers — including average daily new cases and total active cases — will level out and then decline. He said that would be a strong indication that they could consider relaxing some measures.
He stressed that the government's goal with the restrictions was not to reach "COVID-zero," but to protect the hospital system from being overwhelmed.
"When we were earlier in the pandemic, we were kind of on a tightrope without a net. The vaccine is our net now," he said.
"When we believe it's prudent to move forward with reopening we will do so, knowing that the vaccine is helping to interrupt chains of transmission and help keep people out of hospitals."