Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said more than 31,000 eligible Alberta seniors have received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, less than one week after Phase 1B of eligibility opened up.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday that to date, more than 235,000 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered and more than 88,000 Albertans have been fully immunized.
Seniors 75 and older became eligible to receive the vaccine on Feb. 24. Since then, more than 123,000 seniors have made appointments to receive their first dose and more than 31,000 seniors had received their first dose by end of day yesterday.
Alberta Health believes an additional 8,000 seniors will have received their first dose by end of day Monday.
When seniors arrived to receive their vaccine in the first few days, many were met with crowds, lines and long waits. Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services has changed some processes, so those issues have been mitigated.
But she added Albertans still have to make sure they’re following guidelines to reduce wait times as well.
“I understand everyone’s desire to be on time. For many people, getting their first dose is an exciting day. But this is why we have an appointment system.”
Hinshaw is asking everyone to arrive no more than five minutes before their appointment and to go inside just before their appointment time.
Any senior who is comfortable going in alone is asked to do so. There will be staff inside to provide assistance, Hinshaw said.
Eligible seniors still looking to book their appointments can do so by using the online booking tool, calling 811 or by calling a participating pharmacy. A list can be found on the Blue Cross website.
With so many seniors across the province having received their first dose of vaccine, and all in public continuing care being fully vaccinated, Hinshaw said she understands people are eager for some of the restrictions around long-term care facilities to be lifted.
But she cautioned Albertans it’s not that easy.
“It’s important to not just look at the dates when the vaccines have been delivered but also looking at the time.”
According to Hinshaw, it takes about three weeks from the date of the first vaccine to see the benefits and about a week after the second.
It’s important to note, she added, that the province still doesn’t have all the evidence it would like when it comes to the impact of the vaccine’s ability to prevent transmission to others.
“That is a critical piece that we’re watching closely.”
She clarified though that the province has been “very clear” with facilities that every resident should be able to have their two designated support people.
Those people should be able to visit at all times — even during an outbreak — unless there is a special circumstance.
The government is looking at all visitor guidelines, but Hinshaw said more evidence is needed before rules can be changed.
On Monday, B.C. announced it was extending the time period between first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 112 days – or 16 weeks.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday morning the province is considering something similar.
Shandro said they are looking at evidence coming out of other jurisdictions, as well as reviewing advice from physicians and the province’s vaccine advisory committee.
“What the exact period of time it’s going to be is still to be decided. We will be announcing it soon. We will be looking at having that length of time between first and second (doses) extended,” he said.
During an update Tuesday afternoon, the province’s chief medical officer of health said Alberta has always used emerging evidence in forming its COVID-19 response and it’s important to continue to keep up with that evidence.
“One of the things that’s really encouraging that’s coming out of real-world experiences with using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is seeing high levels of protection from the first dose that last for several months,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“I think it’s really important… that we’re using real-world experience and real-world evidence and that we’re making decisions based on that and that we are using the best science and thinking about that overall impact.”
On Monday, the province announced 291 new cases of the novel coronavirus in Alberta. There were 4,674 active cases.
About 5,900 tests were performed over the last 24 hours, putting the province’s positivity rate at 4.9 per cent.
There were 35 additional cases of COVID-19 variants confirmed since Sunday’s update. There have now been 457 cases in Alberta in total.
As of Monday, there were 257 people in hospital, with 48 of those in the ICU.
Alberta Health also confirmed two additional deaths.
In the Calgary zone, a women in her 90s who was linked to the outbreak at Foothills Medical Centre has died, as well as a woman in her 80s in the North zone. Her death was linked to the Heritage Lodge outbreak.
Both cases included comorbidities.
“While it is encouraging to see the rate of COVID-19 fatalities declining, this does not lessen the loss that many Albertans continue to feel after losing a loved one,” Hinshaw said.
Alberta’s death toll now sits at 1,888 people.
To date, 127,233 Albertans have recovered from COVID-19.