Edmonton·Updated

Alberta to start rollout of COVID-19 vaccine for acute-care staff next week

Alberta will begin rolling out the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week, with priority given to doctors and nurses on the front lines in acute-care hospitals, the health minister says.

Some doctors and nurses will be given their first shots on Dec. 16, health minister says

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provided an update on COVID-19 Wednesday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta will begin rolling out the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week, with priority given to doctors and nurses on the front lines in acute-care hospitals, the health minister says.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the plan is to give the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to an initial group of health-care workers next Wednesday.

"To protect those caring for those vulnerable, the first 3,900 doses will go to ICU doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists and long-term care workers throughout the province," Shandro said Wednesday at a news conference.

"These staff are exhausted and they've put themselves at risk for 10 months. And I hope that seeing the immunizations begin will show them that there's light at the end of the tunnel, for them, for the patients and most of all for all of us throughout the province.

Under the Pfizer guidelines, the province must start by administering the vaccine only at the site of delivery, he said.

"We have the facilities and the equipment in place to meet the ultra-cold storage requirement for these first shipments at two locations in Alberta, one in Edmonton, one in Calgary.

"So we can't deliver it to continuing-care facilities in this first round in December, but we hope that by covering the staff we'll start reducing the risk to patients and residents, and we'll immediately reduce the burden and risk for the staff."

Doses to be given one month apart

The first acute-care staff to get the vaccines will come from the Foothills Hospital and the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary, and from University of Alberta and Royal Alexandra hospitals in Edmonton.

The vaccine requires two doses given about one month apart. Shandro said Alberta Health Services will book second dose appointments when they administer the first.

AHS will reach out to those eligible in the coming days, he said. The province expects a second shipment to arrive later in December.

"This early distribution is an important step in our continued fight against COVID," Shandro said. "But we cannot take our foot off the gas with our adherence to the public health measures and the restrictions in place.

"It will be many months until the majority of Albertans are immunized, and until then we are each other's best defence. Still, today is welcome news, though, welcome good news for us all."

Exciting news

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, called the vaccine announcement exciting news for the province.

"It is remarkable that we will have a vaccine available in the same year that this pandemic arrived in Canada," she said. "However, as I've said before, while the arrival of a vaccine is positive news, it will be some time before we can immunize most Albertans. Until then, we must be the vaccine for each other."

Hinshaw said she has heard some confusion about around outdoor gatherings and offered further clarification.

"As of yesterday, outdoor social gatherings with anyone outside your household are prohibited," she said. "This includes getting together in a park or around a bonfire.

People can still participate in outdoor sports and recreation in groups of up to 10 people, she said, as long as they can stay two metres apart.

"However, I am also asking Albertans to please follow the spirit of the restrictions that are now in place. This is about reducing the spread, not finding loopholes. Please don't go skating or skiing with groups of friends if you can go with your household instead. Stick to your household.

"If you are unsure about what to do, please err on the side of caution and make the safest choice."

Latest numbers

The province reported 1,460 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and a total of 20,199 active cases. There are 685 patients being treated for the illness in Alberta hospitals, including 121 in ICU beds.

Another 15 deaths were reported on Wednesday, but the province has now determined that two deaths reported earlier were not linked to COVID-19. That brings the total number of deaths during the pandemic to 653.

Under new restriction put in place by the Alberta government on Tuesday masks are now mandatory in all parts of the province.

All indoor and outdoor social gatherings, both public and private, are now prohibited.

Close contacts are limited to household members only. People who live alone can have up to two close contacts, but those two people must be the same for the duration of the restriction.

The government also rolled out other new restrictions that will take effect at midnight Saturday. The new closures include all:

  • Restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafes. In-person service will not be permitted. Only takeout, curbside pickup and delivery services will be permitted.
  • Casinos, bingo halls, gaming entertainment centres, racing entertainment centres, horse tracks, raceways, bowling alleys, pool halls, legions and private clubs.
  • Recreational facilities such as fitness centres, recreation centres, pools, spas, gyms, studios, camps, indoor rinks and arenas.
  • Libraries, science centres, interpretive centres, museums, galleries, amusement parks and water parks.
  • Businesses offering personal and wellness services such as hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlours and massage businesses.

Funerals and wedding ceremonies will be limited to 10 people who must follow restrictions.

Hotels may remain open but must follow restrictions.

The province also announced it will expand the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant. Businesses will be eligible to apply for a second payment through the program, for a total of up to $20,000 each in potential funding, up from the original $5,000.

Up to 15,000 more businesses may be eligible for government funding, the province said.

The program will also expand to include businesses that have experienced revenue losses of at least 30 per cent due to the pandemic, lowering the threshold from the former requirement of 40 per cent revenue losses.

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