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'Grim situation': Alberta health minister blames Ottawa for vaccine 'standstill'

A shortage of COVID-19 vaccine that left the province unable to administer even one first dose this week left Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro bristling at the federal government Thursday.

Alberta to receive 63,000 fewer vaccine doses than promised by the end of March

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updated Albertans on COVID-19 vaccine shortages in the province. (Left: Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press. Right: Art Raham/CBC)

A shortage of COVID-19 vaccine that left the province unable to administer even one first dose this week had Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro bristling at the federal government Thursday.

"We're ready and we're able to push ahead as fast as the vaccines come, but they're not coming. We were already at a standstill this past week doing no new first doses because of the cut in the supply from Pfizer," Shandro said at a news conference Thursday.

"And that's why I'm so frustrated by the news today, the latest in a series of unfulfilled promises from the federal government. Ottawa continues to fail us and to fail all Albertans."

Earlier this month, the province was told its share of vaccines would be reduced between 20 and 80 per cent over four weeks. Then, Alberta learned it would receive none at all in the last week of January, Shandro said. 

The federal government assured the province that it would still receive the full promised allotment of 468,000 doses in the first quarter.

'Grim situation'

Now Alberta is learning that won't happen, he said.

​Pfizer has been pushing for recognition that six doses — not five — can be extracted from each vial if the appropriate extraction syringe is used. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, says it's simply not possible to get six doses from every vial.

"This is due to many factors including the global shortage of the type of syringes that would be required to more consistently extract this sixth dose," she said Thursday.

Shandro called the six-dose issue a distraction and maintained that the real issue is what the federal government is negotiating around supply.

"This is a grim situation that seems to be getting worse every week," Shandro said. "We know that life for Canadians will not begin returning to something resembling normal until our most vulnerable are immunized.

"We were already at a standstill this past week doing no new first doses because of the cut in the supply from Pfizer."

Pfizer is making upgrades to its Belgian plant so it can manufacture up to two billion doses this year.

"We know that Albertans want a concrete timeline ... and I want to give it to them," he said. "And I can't do that if every new week brings a smaller amount of vaccines.

"We need real answers, we in Alberta need real action to restore the supply of vaccines."

As of Wednesday, 101,123 Albertans had been vaccinated, with about 12,000 of them having received the required second dose.

Alberta reported 461 new cases Thursday for a total number of active cases at 8,041. 

On Thursday, Alberta reported there were 591 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 112 patients in intensive care. There were 7 new deaths, bringing that total to 1,606. 

Hinshaw also remarked on the absence of influenza in the province, noting that measures in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 have dramatically impacted flu numbers.

"While we'd hoped there would be fewer influenza cases this year, what we have actually seen is that the public health measures put in place in these last 11 months have truly stopped seasonal influenza in its tracks," she said.

Hinshaw said the lack of flu cases this year underscores the differences between it and coronavirus and how dangerous COVID-19 is.

"In just 11 months, COVID-19 has taken more lives than 10 years of influenza cases combined," despite the unprecedented measures put in place to fight COVID-19.

"All of which reminds us yet again COVID-19 is unlike any virus that we have faced in Alberta in more than 100 years."

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