The premier announced Tuesday that 16,900 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Alberta.
Jason Kenney said they will be “quickly deployed” to high-risk residents in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities.
He said the first shipment would arrive at facilities in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, St. Paul and Fort Saskatchewan.
Since the Moderna vaccine doesn’t require the extreme cold storage the Pfizer vaccine does, “it can be more easily transported to these facilities… to reach the most vulnerable populations,” Kenney said.
In addition, the Moderna doses will be offered to residents at six First Nation congregate living facilities on-reserve. The Provincial Vaccine Depot will also receive vaccine for further distribution to rural and remote communities.
The premier said he hopes the New Year will represent a turning point in the fight against the pandemic.
“The arrival of the vaccine does not mean the pandemic is over,” he said.
“We must continue to follow the health guidelines and do everything we can to keep each other safe.”
Kenney said as more shipments of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine arrive in early January, immunization will focus on residents of long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, followed by seniors aged 75 and over and residents aged 65 and over of First Nations reserve communities and Metis settlements.
Vaccine will continue to be offered to priority one groups, including front-line health care workers at highest risk, including those working in ICUs at respiratory therapists.
By the end of Tuesday, about 7,000 front-line health-care workers were expected to have received their dose of vaccine.
The province initially set a goal of vaccinating 29,000 Albertans by the end of the year.
Kenney admitted Alberta won’t reach that goal. He said it was because Alberta Health Services had been “cautiously” holding back half the vaccine for those required second doses and because Pfizer said the shot could only be given at the location the vaccine was delivered.
Pfizer allowed more flexibility for where the vaccine can be administered on Dec. 22, Kenney and Shandro said.
Alberta received about 25,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine earlier in December.
The COVID-19 cabinet committee met Tuesday morning and decided to direct AHS to stop holding back half the vaccine and instead give a first dose to as many Albertans as possible, “counting on future large shipments we’ll be receiving” to deliver the second dose.
Appointments are scheduled to give about 4,000 doses in the next few days, Kenney said. Appointments will also be made on New Years Day, which AHS initially planned to have as a day off.
“Starting tomorrow, the vaccine will be going out to designated supportive living facilities in all five zones of the province,” Dr. Laura McDougall, senior medical officer of health for AHS, said. “We’ll also be increasing the number of clinics… for those designated health-care workers.”
The Opposition said the UCP being unable to meet its vaccination targets is an “unconscionable failure.”
“The premier promised 29,000 COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of 2020. Currently, he hasn’t reached a quarter of that target and there are just two days left,” NDP Health Critic David Shepherd said.
“There are widespread reports of vaccination sitting in storage waiting to be administered and mass confusion among front-line workers about when they will be vaccinated.
“The premier tried to blame his failure to meet vaccination targets on Alberta Health Services, claiming it was officials there who made the decision to withhold half of the vaccination supply to administer a second dose. However, on Dec. 14, Health Minister Tyler Shandro insisted no doses would be withheld,” Shepherd said.
On Dec. 14, Shandro announced 25,350 more doses of Pfizer vaccine were on the way to Alberta.
“That’s about 29,000 doses and they can all be first doses. We don’t have to hold back any of that portion for the second dose,” the health minister said.
When asked for clarification on Alberta’s vaccine rollout process, AHS said in a statement:
“Alberta Health Services is shifting to providing the first dose of vaccine for initial phase health-care workers and continuing care residents, without holding the second dose in reserve.
“The first 3,900 doses were cleared for immediate single-dose use, but some of the 25,350 Pfizer doses were held back because future shipments were unknown.
“With supply becoming more available and schedules being firmer, AHS is doing everything possible to vaccinate as many people as possible with the available vaccines.
“Other provinces have recently announced that they are moving to a single-dose vaccine rollout, and as Dr. Laura McDougall said at today’s COVID-19 update, AHS is doing everything possible to hit the targets, including vaccinating on New Year’s Day.
“Vaccinations are taking place across every zone, every day.”
McDougall said Tuesday AHS still is trying to reach that 29,000 mark by the end of the year.
“It’s all hands on deck at this point.”
McDougall said AHS’ immunization plan will draw on the workforce that usually delivers seasonal flu vaccine, which will include public health nurses. AHS will also bring in student nurses and retired nurses to help.
Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is leading Ontario’s vaccine program, said more than 14,000 people in Ontario had received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot as of Tuesday morning. That number put the province behind the rest of the country with about 95 vaccinations per 100,000 people.
In comparison, Quebec had administered 22,500 doses or about 265 per 100,000.
In British Columbia, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said almost 12,000 people have been vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
In Alberta, Phase 2 of the vaccination program is still expected to start by April 2021. Final decisions about which populations will have priority to receive the vaccine in Phase 2 have not yet been determined.
Phase 3 will involve rolling out vaccinations to the general Alberta population, and is anticipated to start “later in 2021.”
There were 872 new cases identified in the 24 hours leading up to Tuesday’s announcement and more than 11,000 tests were done.
Alberta’s positivity rate sat at about 7.7 per cent.
Read more: A timeline of COVID-19 in Alberta
Eight-hundred-and-ninety Albertans were in hospital with COVID-19, 153 of whom were in the ICU.
Twenty-six additional deaths were reported to Alberta Health Tuesday, bringing the provincial death toll from COVID-19 to 1,028.
Of the 26 deaths reported to Alberta Health Tuesday, 25 were linked to outbreaks at care facilities or hospitals. The other was a man in his 50s from the Calgary zone.
There are currently 14,785 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta.
— With a file from Canadian PressView link »