Kenney, Shandro announce next steps in COVID-19 vaccine rollout

On Friday, Alberta reported 325 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths.

325 new cases, 7 more deaths reported on Friday

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro updated Albertans Friday on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the province. (Jason Franson/CP; Jeff McIntosh/CP)

All seniors aged 75 and older will be able to book appointments for COVID-19 vaccines beginning next Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced Friday.

The premier made the announcement during a press conference Friday. He also announced that residents of lodges and other continuing care facilities will be offered the vaccine beginning Friday.

Previously, vaccines were offered to residents of public long-term care and designated supportive-living facilities. Kenney said all residents in long-term care and designated supportive living have received their second shot.

"As you know, about two-thirds of deaths from COVID-19 in Alberta have occurred in those settings and we are very happy to see that since the vaccines began in long-term care centres that the number of infections, of outbreaks, of hospitalizations and of fatalities coming from long-term care has fallen dramatically," Kenney said.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro also attended the news conference, saying the first shots will be given at pharmacies that are ready and able to store Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at the appropriate low temperatures. Vaccines will also be given out by family physicians.

It's important to enlist the help of providers that seniors are already comfortable with, Shandro said.

325 new cases, 7 more deaths

On Friday, Alberta reported 325 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths from the disease. The total number of people who have died from COVID-19 now stands at 1,812.

Currently, there are 4,840 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. Of those, 352 people are in hospital, including 55 in intensive care units.

The regional breakdown of active cases is:

  • Calgary zone: 1,702
  • Edmonton zone: 1,260
  • North zone: 792
  • Central zone: 752
  • South zone: 325
  • Unknown: Nine

The ongoing vaccination program has now delivered 160,423 doses, and almost 59,000 Albertans have been fully immunized with the required two doses. 

Phase 2 to begin in April

Kenney said Phase 2 is expected to begin in April, pending vaccine being available. It will include anyone aged 50 to 74, anyone with high-risk underlying health conditions, First Nations and Métis people aged 35 or older, and residents and staff of congregate living settings and eligible caregivers.

According to a news release, details about qualifying underlying health conditions will be released before Phase 2 begins.

Within Phase 2, the province has broken eligibility into smaller groups:

  • Group A:
    • Albertans aged 65 to 74;
    • First Nations and Métis people aged 50 to 64, on and off reserve or Métis settlements;
    • Staff of licensed supportive-living facilities not included in Phase 1.
  • Group B:
    • Albertans aged 18 to 64 with high-risk underlying health conditions.
  • Group C:
    • Residents and staff of eligible congregate-living settings. This includes correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and group homes, including disability, mental health and other types of licensed supportive living.
    • Health-care workers providing direct and acute patient care who have a high potential for spread to high-risk individuals.
    • Caregivers of Albertans who are most at risk of severe outcomes.
  • Group D:
    • Albertans aged 50 to 64, no matter where they live.
    • First Nations and Métis people aged 35 to 49 on and off reserve or Métis settlements.

Data shows Indigenous adults are more likely to have underlying health conditions, putting them at higher risk and requiring a different age cut off, Shandro said. 

Seniors born in 1946 or earlier will be able to book appointments by phone and online through Alberta Health Services. Details about the booking system won't be released until Wednesday, when they will be posted on the COVID-19 vaccine web page, according to an Alberta Health spokesperson.

Information about supports for isolated seniors and those with mobility challenges will also be posted, the spokesperson said in an email.

Rollout will frustrate some, premier concedes

Delayed shipments stalled the phased rollout in Alberta and across Canada. Kenney acknowledged that some people will be frustrated to not be included in the first two phases of immunization.

"I know that there are some folks that will be disappointed to hear that they must wait until Phase 3 before they're eligible for vaccination," Kenney said.

"And workers who must interact with people every day because of their jobs — like teachers, transit workers and those hardworking Albertans who kept our central services like grocery stores open since Day 1 of this pandemic — they might  wonder why these are not in Phase 2.

"With a limited amount of vaccines, we must make difficult choices to ensure that those people who are most at risk are protected first, following the data and the scientific advice," he said.

So far, Alberta has focused on immunizing residents of long-term care and designated supportive-living facilities, as well as specific categories of health-care workers, including those who work in emergency or intensive care settings where COVID-19 cases are likely to be present.

Staff who work in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities were included, as were home care workers.

Israeli prioritization strategy

Asked about determining prioritization, Shandro pointed to the strategy adopted by Israel, the country with the highest rate of vaccines administered by population.

"And since age is the simple greatest factor for risk, for COVID mortality, it was the only determining factor in their prioritization with the exception of health care workers and first responders," Shandro said.

"They're already seeing positive results with this strategy and this should give us in Alberta great hope as our prioritization is also large determined by age."