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Alberta seniors hopeful for future as COVID-19 vaccines open to those 75 and older

Click to play video: 'Alberta seniors hopeful for future as COVID-19 vaccines open to those 75 and older' Alberta seniors hopeful for future as COVID-19 vaccines open to those 75 and older
WATCH ABOVE: Stress and frustration around Alberta's vaccine booking system has turned to elation for those who finally got through. Chris Chacon looks at the morale boost some are getting from this next phase of the rollout – Feb 25, 2021

Despite some challenges with Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination booking system, more than 2,000 Albertans 75 and older received their first dose of the vaccine on Wednesday.

Wednesday marked the first day community seniors who were born in 1946 or earlier could book their vaccination appointments.

The demand to book appointments was incredibly high, as anticipated, which led to the Alberta Health Services website crashing or not loading for many trying to book appointments. Calls to Health Link 811 also rang busy or wouldn’t connect.

Read more: Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking site experiences ‘very high volumes’ as appointments open to those 75 and older

However, despite the issues, AHS said Thursday morning that more than 82,000 Albertans 75 and over had already made appointments to be immunized against COVID-19.

By early Thursday afternoon, more than 100,000 Albertans in this age group had booked appointments.

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Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said an additional 22,000 seniors who live in congregate care also booked appointments, as well as “thousands more” who booked their appointments through participating pharmacies.

“Combined with the 28,000 seniors in long-term care already vaccinated, well over half of Alberta’s 75-plus population is already vaccinated or booked to receive the vaccine,” Shandro said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“This is a significant milestone for our province and it deserves to be celebrated. Many other provinces remain days or even weeks away from even getting started.”

Read more: Lineups and long waits for Edmonton seniors at COVID-19 vaccine facility

Elizabeth Baker lives in a long-term care home in Edmonton that did not fall under the vaccine eligibility in Phase 1A of the rollout.

The 92-year-old will receive her first dose of vaccine on Monday morning and could not be more excited.

“We’re all very happy. We all want to do a happy dance for that,” Baker said via Skype Thursday afternoon.

Her family is just as excited as she is.

“I emailed my daughter yesterday and she sent it on to everybody else, and we have a family WhatsApp so it spread through the whole family — all my kids and grandkids — so I was getting emails from everybody saying how happy they were that I was finally getting it.”

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Elizabeth Baker lives in a long-term care home in Edmonton that did not fall under the vaccine eligibility in Phase 1A of the rollout. Global News

Baker lives in independent living at the Touchmark at Wedgewood retirement community. She prepares her own breakfast and lunch. Up until the pandemic hit, she would go down to the dining room for dinner, where she enjoyed chatting with fellow residents.

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She said while they are allowed back in the dining room for meals — with social distancing in place — she is really looking forward to games, events and social activities being offered again. There’s one activity in particular she’s been missing.

“I’m hoping our happy hours will come back on Thursday or Friday afternoon. Everybody is hoping for that,” she said with a laugh.

Beyond that, she’s also looking forward to getting out into the community and enjoying some of her favourite pastimes.

“Looking to the future when we get both our doses, I’m hoping that maybe in the fall we might even be able to go to hockey games again and watch the Oilers again, if they get opened up. That would be fantastic.”

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Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system' Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system
Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system – Feb 24, 2021

AHS said more than 2,000 of Albertans 75 and older received their first dose on Wednesday.

“The online booking tool has stabilized since launch on Wednesday morning,” AHS said Thursday morning. “We very much appreciate everyone’s patience, and we understand the frustration.”

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AHS said several thousand people will receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. There are about 230,000 Albertans in the 75 and over age group.

Also Wednesday, Shandro announced that about 100 pharmacies in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer will begin to book appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine for Albertans 75 and older. Appointments will be available starting on March 8, Shandro said.

“This is a step that just makes sense,” Shandro said. “Pharmacists have a lot of experience in delivering vaccines.”

Read more: Computer programmer shares workaround to Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking issues

These three cities were chosen as a first step due to the strict handling and storage requirements, as well as supply of the current vaccines that are available. As more vaccines arrive, Shandro said more pharmacies will offer COVID-19 vaccines.

“We are ready and we are able to keep expanding our approach,” Shandro said, adding the province is working with the Alberta Medical Association to continue to expand its rollout so community physicians can also offer the COVID-19 vaccine.

Large, flow-through immunization clinics are also being planned for the future as supply and demand warrants.

Vaccine rollout offers hope after challenging year

Despite the technical challenges of the booking system, registered psychologist Dr. Brent Macdonald said Wednesday’s shift to vaccinate the next group of Albertans offers a sense of positivity and hope after what’s been a tough year for many.

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“There’s a lot of positives that are coming from this. First of all, that we can finally take a bit of a breath knowing that vaccines are starting to be taken in by some of our seniors,” Macdonald said.

“It just gives families a bit of reassurance that things are probably now going to be at least a little bit more OK. … It’s getting into the population now. People are taking advantage of vaccines.”

Macdonald said as further phases of the vaccine rollout arrive, it will continue to offer a psychological resolution to some of the stress and anxiety people have been experiencing.

“A lot of that intense stress and anxiety that people have been experiencing over the past year or so — we’re starting to see maybe a bit of resolution to that stress through the hope that’s being offered through the vaccine,” he said.

“With the pandemic, we’ve become very accustomed to dealing with challenge and frustrations and stress over the past year, in a way that I don’t think any of us anticipated.

“We can now take some of that positive energy and use that to take care of ourselves a little bit more carefully, take care of other folks in our community that we haven’t been focused on as much.”

Read more: Canada’s vaccines: How each province, territory is handling next phase of rollout

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The health minister stressed that despite the excitement the vaccine rollout brings, now is not the time for people to let their guard down.

Alberta recorded 399 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, along with eight additional deaths from the disease. The positive cases came after 9,217 tests were processed, putting the province’s positivity rate at about 4.3 per cent.

There were 280 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 56 of whom were being treated in the ICU.

Read more: 399 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

As of Feb. 24, 195,572 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Alberta and 80,620 Albertans had been fully immunized with two doses of vaccine.

Eligible Albertans can book their COVID-19 vaccination appointment online, by calling 811 or through one of the more than 100 participating pharmacies.

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