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Less than 1% of Albertans have been fully vaccinated as Shandro calls Pfizer dose change ‘frustrating’

Alberta confirmed 12 additional deaths connected to COVID-19 on Tuesday, as the province identified 195 new cases, including one new variant.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said 7,003 COVID-19 tests were done in the last 24 hours, putting Alberta’s positivity rate at about 3.2 per cent.

There are 427 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, including 78 individuals in ICU.

Read more: Hinshaw urges caution as restrictions ease and Alberta records 25 new COVID-19 variant cases

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said one additional variant case has been identified, bringing Alberta’s total to 104. She said 97 have been the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., and seven have been the N501Y.V2 variant, which was first discovered in South Africa.

“So far, variants are still very rare and we are working to keep it that way,” Hinshaw said.

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The labs have tested “most, if not all” COVID-19 tests for variant strains, she added.

Click to play video: 'Hinshaw outlines hospital protocols as case numbers for new COVID-19 variants rise in Alberta' Hinshaw outlines hospital protocols as case numbers for new COVID-19 variants rise in Alberta
Hinshaw outlines hospital protocols as case numbers for new COVID-19 variants rise in Alberta – Feb 9, 2021

Alberta will begin sharing daily updates (on weekdays) on the COVID-19 variants starting this week, Hinshaw said.

As of Tuesday, Alberta has administered 124,325 doses of vaccine. That includes 32,700 people who have received both doses, meaning less than 0.75 per cent of Alberta’s total population is fully immunized.

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Hinshaw was asked if any Albertans who received their first dose of vaccine have passed the 42-day window without receiving their second dose.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “If that has happened, it hasn’t been reported to me.”

Alberta Health later confirmed that all Albertans are currently receiving their second dose within the recommended time frame.

The province says about 63 per cent of residents in long-term care and designated supportive living have received two doses of vaccine.

The 12 deaths that were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours bring the provincial death toll from COVID-19 to 1,722.

Read more: Alberta government adds minor sports training, gymnastics and dance to Monday’s COVID-19 reopening

On Monday, Step 1 of Alberta’s reopening plan came into effect. Restaurants were able to re-open dine-in service with restrictions including capacity limits, distancing and seating households together.

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Speaking at a news conference Tuesday morning about expanding rapid testing, Health Minister Tyler Shandro was asked about the Pfizer vaccine vials.

Health Canada has authorized a label change to PfizerBioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine that will allow six doses of the precious drug to be extracted per vial.

Up until now, Canada has been extracting five doses from a single vial of the vaccine.

READ MORE: Pfizer pushes Health Canada to stretch vaccine doses per vial as demand mounts

The pharmaceutical company recently pushed Health Canada to amend the label information on vials in Canada, as it did with the U.S. and Europe.

Getting the sixth dose also requires the use of a special syringe.

“It is frustrating,” Shandro said. “I think we made it clear to the federal government and to Health Canada that when everybody gets the best training, everybody is using the right syringe, we’re only going to get that sixth dose 75 per cent of the time max.

“So it means that the provinces are, in the end — because the federal government has contracted out on the basis of doses, not vials — so it means the provinces are going to end up not getting as many doses, I think.

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“But, we’re going to continue to commit to Albertans, we’re going to get vaccines to them as quickly as possible, as soon as we receive them, and we’re going to make sure that we continue focusing on the smallest amount of waste as possible.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Trudeau says ‘tens of thousands’ of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week' Coronavirus: Trudeau says ‘tens of thousands’ of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week
Coronavirus: Trudeau says ‘tens of thousands’ of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week – Feb 9, 2021

Shandro also said Alberta Health Services “has procured” those special syringes to help extract that sixth dose more often.

“My understanding is there’s no shortage in Alberta of those syringes and we’re going to have the syringes that we need,” he said.

“But… to remind everyone, this is a very small, minor increase in how many more [sixth] doses we’re going to be getting in these vials.

“We’re right now getting a [sixth] dose out of 50 per cent. This is about going from 50 per cent to 75.”
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Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Health Canada approves Pfizer vaccine label change allowing 6 doses per vial' Coronavirus: Health Canada approves Pfizer vaccine label change allowing 6 doses per vial
Coronavirus: Health Canada approves Pfizer vaccine label change allowing 6 doses per vial – Feb 9, 2021

Hinshaw said AHS and Health Canada were able to procure a different type of syringe that will help get that sixth dose “more regularly.”

She described them as “small volume syringes” with “low dead space.”

However, Hinshaw wasn’t sure how often — in terms of a percentage — Alberta immunizers would be able to extract that sixth dose.

“It’s my understanding that when these very specific low dead volume syringes are used, it is more reliable to get that sixth dose.

“I don’t know what percentage. We’ll have to see. There’s always some potential wastage, but I would imagine it would be much closer to 100 per cent, based on the trials that Health Canada has reported to us,” Hinshaw said.

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“I’m really encouraged that we are getting a supply of those particular syringes as that will be key to our ability to get six doses from every vial consistently.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Hinshaw says AHS has procured small volume syringes with help from Health Canada' COVID-19: Hinshaw says AHS has procured small volume syringes with help from Health Canada
COVID-19: Hinshaw says AHS has procured small volume syringes with help from Health Canada – Feb 9, 2021

Alberta Health said the province received a shipment of the special syringes this week “and will be distributing that across the province.

“AHS currently has a sufficient supply of both the regular 1 ml syringes, and the low dead space syringe, to meet demand,” a spokesperson told Global News. “AHS has also placed orders and is expecting future deliveries of the syringes.”

The province said Alberta’s immunizers do not need any additional training to use these low dead space syringes.

In-school COVID-19 transmission

Hinshaw said 77 Alberta schools have had in-school transmission of COVID-19, resulting in 115 cases of in-school transmission since in-person classes resumed.

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It’s been four weeks since in-person school started again in Alberta, Hinshaw pointed out. The week before in-school classes resumed, there were an average of 131 new cases each day in the 5-19 age group. In the first week back in class, there were an average of 113 new cases a day in that age group “and has continued to decline since.” Last week, there were 58 average cases.

“It continues to show … that cases rise and fall in children and youth as the rates of community transmission increase and decrease.”

“Schools are still not a primary driver of COVID-19 transmission when appropriate measures are applied.”

Click to play video: '6 classes in 5 Alberta schools have seen COVID-19 variant cases, but no known transmission reported' 6 classes in 5 Alberta schools have seen COVID-19 variant cases, but no known transmission reported
6 classes in 5 Alberta schools have seen COVID-19 variant cases, but no known transmission reported – Feb 9, 2021

Of the 12 fatalities reported Tuesday, one was a woman in her 20s from the Central zone. “Comorbidities are unknown at this time,” the province said.

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Five were linked to outbreaks at continuing care or health facilities. A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Lifestyle Options Whitemud in the Edmonton zone died, as did a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at St. Thomas Health Centre in the Edmonton zone. A woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Manor Village at Fish Creek Park in the Calgary zone died, as did a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Agecare Sagewood in the Calgary zone and a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Bonnyville Extendicare in the North zone. All five cases included comorbidities.

Click to play video: 'Alberta identifies 195 new cases of COVID-19, records 12 deaths Tuesday' Alberta identifies 195 new cases of COVID-19, records 12 deaths Tuesday
Alberta identifies 195 new cases of COVID-19, records 12 deaths Tuesday – Feb 9, 2021

A woman in her 80s (with comorbidities) from the Calgary zone, a man in his 70s (with comorbidities) from the North zone, a man in his 90s (with comorbidities) from the North zone, and a man in his 70s (with comorbidities) in the Calgary zone also passed away. A man in his 50s from the South zone died and comorbidities are unknown at this time in his case.

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Read more: Alberta expands COVID-19 rapid testing program to asymptomatic continuing care staff

At that news conference Tuesday morning, the province also announced it had expanded its rapid testing program to include asymptomatic staff at long-term care and designated supportive living sites.

That means, Alberta’s 36,000 staff will have access to rapid COVID-19 tests once a week. If a site has a positivity rate of five per cent or higher, they will be asked to increase testing to twice weekly.

Researchers are still looking at the effectiveness of these rapid tests in asymptomatic individuals. So, a pilot program has been deployed at the Suncor Base Plant in Fort McMurray and in the First Nations and Metis community of Fort McKay.

Seven-thousand rapid tests are being used for employees at the Suncor site and community and health-care workers in Fort McKay for asymptomatic workplace testing.

Read more: Canada to require negative COVID-19 test at land borders next week

Alberta has already deployed rapid testing at:

  • 33 COVID-19 assessment centres
  • 29 hospitals
  • Seven homeless shelters
  • Mobile testing facilities that test residents and staff of long-term care and designated supportive living facilities identified as potential outbreak sites.
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