Alberta to expand COVID-19 vaccine rollout starting March 15, health minister says
Province plans to give all adults their first doses by the end of June
Alberta will expand its COVID-19 vaccine rollout to include people under age 75 starting March 15, and if shipments arrive as scheduled, all adults in the province will receive their first dose by the end of June, the health minister says.
"By June 30, we expect to have offered every single adult in the province at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday at a news conference.
Under the expanding vaccine program set to begin in less than two weeks, about 437,000 more people between the ages of 65 and 74 will become eligible for inoculations, Shandro said.
To avoid long delays for those making appointments, when Phase 2A begins on March 15 bookings will be offered in two-year age groups, Shandro said. On the first day, anyone aged 73 or 74 will be able to book.On the second day, eligibility will be expanded to include anyone aged 71 to 72, and so on from there.
"Staff and residents in seniors' supportive-living facilities who are not already immunized will also be able to book appointments starting on Day 1," Shandro said.
"Appointments will be booked through both participating pharmacies, the online booking tool, as well as HealthLink 811. First Nations, Inuit and Métis people who are aged 50 and older will also receive the vaccine starting the week of March 15."
The province is still finalizing details, and exact start times will be announced the week of March 15, Shandro said, with immunizations beginning that day or the next.
"And it's important to remember that under our system you never lose eligibility for the vaccine," he said. "Once you're eligible you stay eligible. No one is left behind."
AstraZeneca to be offered to adults under 64
Alberta will soon begin using the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, the minister said, and plans to offer the first 58,500 doses of that vaccine only to healthy adults between the ages of 50 and 64.
"These Albertans will have a choice," Shandro said. "They can book an appointment now for the AstraZeneca or they can wait to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine when Phase 2D begins in early May."
Bookings for the Astra-Zeneca vaccine will begin on March 10 for any Albertan born in 1957, Shandro said, and those born between 1958 and 1971 will be offered chances to book vaccine appointments in the following days as long as supply lasts.
People in other Phase 2 groups will be prioritized for the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines because of their age, their chronic health conditions, or their living arrangements, he said.
Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, recommended Thursday that all healthy Albertans get immunized as soon as they are eligible, no matter which vaccine option is provided.
"AstraZeneca works," Shandro said. "It has been shown to reduce infection by 60 to 70 per cent and severe outcomes, like hospitalization, by 80 per cent. Where this vaccine seems to differ is in preventing asymptomatic infection, which means reducing the spread of COVID-19. That's why we're not using it in any congregate living settings, like seniors' housing."
The faster people get vaccinated, the faster Alberta can reduce the burden on the health-care system, he said.
"Widespread vaccination will help all Albertans get back to more normal life sooner. And today's announcement is an exciting step forward and one that should bring hope to us all.
"We're not out of the pandemic yet. But as of today there is more light at the end of the tunnel. We can see the other side, and if all goes according to plan, we''re going to get there faster than we dared to hope even a few weeks ago."
Friday marks one-year anniversary
Thursday's announcement is "great news" for the province, Hinshaw said, and by fall the plan is to have everyone protected with two doses.
"This will make a world of difference in our ongoing battle with COVID-19," she said.
All three vaccines now approved in Canada will help protect against serious outcomes or long-term health impacts and dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.
"And if those reasons don't resonate with you, please know [that] widespread immunization will help us all return to a more normal way of life more quickly. Choosing to be immunized is one of the most important actions we can take for ourselves and for our communities."
Friday marks one year since Alberta identified its first case of COVID-19, Hinshsaw said.
"Together we've navigated the uncertainty of COVID-19 and living in a global pandemic. We've had to find new ways to work, socialize and look after our health, all while researchers, scientists and health professionals from around the world have worked to learn as much as they could about this new virus and how best to treat and prevent it.
"Despite the changes, challenges and losses we have encountered, we've proven just how resilient Albertans are. Our fight isn't over with COVID-19 because it is still very much in our communities. But we are so much closer to returning to a more normal way of life than we were a year ago, or even a few weeks back."
Latest case numbers
The province reported nine more deaths and 331 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.
Hospitals were treating 245 patients for the illness, including 47 in ICU beds.
There are now 541 cases of people infected with two "variants of concern" in the province.
There were 4,613 active cases across Alberta on Thursday. The regional breakdown of those active cases was:
- Calgary Zone - 1,645.
- Edmonton Zone - 1,082.
- Central Zone - 545.
- South Zone - 326.
- North Zone - 1,009.
- Unknown - six.
Laboratories completed 9,483 tests over the past 24 hours.
As of Thursday, more than 266,000 vaccine doses had been administered in Alberta and more than 90,000 people had been fully inoculated with their second doses.