Paramedics and emergency medical responders in Alberta are now included in in Phase 1A of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan.
“Paramedics are on the front line, first and foremost as health-care workers,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Monday.
“They are a vital component of our COVID response and I know that all paramedics are working day in and day out to keep Albertans safe.”
The change to the immunization plan was announced Monday, as part of Premier Jason Kenney’s update on the plans to ramp up the current rollout, which offers the shots to high-risk groups like seniors and staff in long-term care, designated supportive living, physicians and nurses in ICUs and staff on medical, surgical and COVID-19 units in the province’s hospitals.
Kenney said as of Monday, a total of 46,791 vaccines have been given to Albertans, and he expects to have 50,000 doses given by the end of the day. He said that more than three-quarters of the doses sent to Alberta by the federal government have been given out, with an average of 3,800 shots given each day in January.
The province is well on its way to finishing the campaign to vaccinate seniors in the province’s 398 supported living and long-term care facilities, Kenney said, with the North zone expected to be finished by end of day Monday, and the rest of the province set to finish by Jan. 18.
“This is very good news because, of course, these are among the most vulnerable people to COVID-19 and we are within days of having completed the first dose for those particularly vulnerable seniors.”
Kenney said there are three main components to successfully ramping up the province’s vaccine schedule, which he hopes will increase to 50,000 doses per week by the end of the month. They include capacity to administer immunizations, a sufficient supply and having willing Albertans lining up to get the shot.
Kenney said he spoke last week with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as other premiers, about the concerns around dwindling supply of vaccine doses as every province aims to immunize more and more people each day. He said because of the federal government’s exclusive contracts with vaccine suppliers, Alberta isn’t able to independently secure its own supply.
Based on the current schedule, Kenney said Alberta could run out of vaccine doses in roughly a week, “unless we get a huge surprise shipment.”
“Next week, we’re projecting to be short at least 20,000, (and) it could be significantly more, based on our pace of inoculations,” he said.
“All I see is red on our projections from the week of Jan. 18 to the week of March 29 – the red represents a shortage of supply. So it is very significant. But I want to be clear this is not a blame game. We’re just saying: Alberta’s health system, it has stepped up in a big way here, and we need more doses, bottom line.”
Kenney said despite that reality, he’s still directing the health-care system “to create the fastest possible system for inoculation driven by urgency despite the projected and current supply shortages.”
Kenney added that by the end of March, which will mark just over a year since COVID-19 was first detected in Alberta, it’s hoped 200,000 Albertans will be getting a shot each week.
He said the province plans to partner with pharmacies to expand distribution capacity. Shandro also said the province is “actively hiring vaccinators” to support the expansion.
“The bottom line is this: Alberta’s capacity to give people the jab will soon outstrip available vaccine supplies, and we’re doing everything humanly possible to roll out these life-saving vaccines as quickly as they arrive,” Kenney said.
He said he hopes that Health Canada is working round the clock during the approval processes for new vaccines, such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, while maintaining the necessarily high standards through the emergency approval process.
However, if the process doesn’t move quickly enough, Kenney isn’t shying away from finding ways around the federal government’s exclusive contracts, if need be.
“I’ve asked our legal folks to look at whether, if the federal government isn’t going to procure other vaccines that go to market, whether provincial governments can do so on their own,” he said.
“We’re prepared to go as long as it takes in terms of our investment in this, if we can accelerate more vaccines here in Alberta.”
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said officials are looking at the possibility of stretching out the period in between vaccine doses as a way to increase the province’s supply.
However, she said if that decision is approved, it would only be possible on a forward basis, meaning anyone who has already received the shot will get their second dose in the previously approved time frame.
Kenney said Albertans can expect an update on the date for starting vaccinations for seniors over 75 in the general population, as well as those over 65 in First Nations and Métis settlements, “very soon.”
Hinshaw said Albertans shouldn’t be worried about safety with the new vaccine, and said officials are watching the vaccination program across the country and the world to watch for any concerns.
A total of seven adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines have been detected in Alberta, Hinshaw said, adding they’re not necessarily caused by the vaccine. She said most of the adverse effects were minor, and included swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea or a rash. In three cases, the person had an allergic reaction, but weren’t anaphylactic.
In a news release, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called on the premier to instate daily media updates from the province’s vaccine task force, as a way to rebuild public trust following a scandal involving MLAs and UCP staff members travelling out of the country over the holidays, despite government recommendations against it.
“The best thing Jason Kenney can do to rebuild trust with Albertans is remove himself as the face of the vaccine program, and allow Albertans to hear directly from the vaccine task force,” Notley said. “Albertans have a right to daily updates on the progress of this critical work, and to hear task force members answer questions about their progress.”
Notley said the updates should include details like how vaccinations are being distributed to high-risk populations, how vaccines will be doled out in places that have outbreaks and updates on vaccine distribution from manufacturers, storage and transportation.
The NDP also called on the UCP to provide daily updates on vaccine inventory, doses given out in each region and expected shipments.
Notley also stressed the decrease in public trust couldn’t come at a worse time. She said it’s a “critically important resource when you’re fighting a pandemic.”
“Public trust is one of the most important resources we have in the fight against this virus, but it’s at risk.”
She added that the travel scandals and lapses in judgement appear to be causing dissention and frustration among the UCP caucus as well as the general public.
The Opposition leader said the premier needs to stop blaming the federal government and focus on improving the vaccine rollout in Alberta.
“Rather than politicizing this issue, let’s focus on getting Albertans ready to receive that vaccine, ensuring Albertans want that vaccine and ensuring we’re ready to deliver it.”
On Monday, the federal government added a vaccine distribution tracker to its website, where the number of doses — broken down by manufacturer — sent to each province each week will be posted.
Monday case numbers
As of Monday, Alberta had 13,917 active cases of COVID-19, with 639 new infections confirmed over the last 24 hours.
A total of 811 people were in hospital as of Monday, with 130 being treated in intensive care units.
On Monday, Alberta Health said an additional 23 deaths had been reported in the last 24 hours. There have now been a total of 1,307 deaths due to COVID-19 in Alberta.
Of those newly reported deaths, 11 were in the Edmonton region, with six related to outbreaks. A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Chinese Seniors Lodge, a woman in her 90s linked to the MacTaggart Place Retirement Residence, a man in his 70s linked to Capital Care Lynwood and a man in his 80s linked to the McConachie Gardens Retirement Living outbreak have all died with previously known comorbidities.
A woman in her 80s linked to the Royal Alexandra Hospital outbreak and a man in his 70s linked to the Misericordia Community Hospital outbreak also died. Comorbidities were unknown as of reporting in both cases.
Of the other five Edmonton zone cases, a man in his 60s and two men in their 70s died with known comorbidities.
Two of the cases – a man in his 60s and a woman in her 70s – died with unknown comorbidities.
There were 11 deaths reported from Calgary zone. Of those, seven were linked to outbreaks: a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 90s and a man in his 70s all linked to the Agecare Skypointe outbreak, a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Origin at Spring Creek, a man in his 70s linked to the Bethany Calgary outbreak, a man in his 80s linked to the Bethany Airdrie outbreak and a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Bethany Riverview have died. All cases included known comorbidities.
Of the four other deaths reported from Calgary Zone, two of the cases included known comorbidities: a man in his 60s and a man in his 80s died.
A man in his 60s with no known comorbidities and a man in his 70s with unknown comorbidities also died.
The final death reported was from South zone. A woman in her 100s linked to the outbreak at Meadowlands died. Her case included comorbidities.
The majority of Alberta’s students went back to in-person learning Monday, after classrooms were closed for an extended period of time in December and early January.
On Friday, the government announced the current COVID-19 health restrictions — which ban in-person dining and social gatherings of any kind outside of those living in the same household, among other things — would be extended until at least Jan. 21, as the province continues to try to bend the curve of the second wave of infections.