After Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization announced Wednesday that provinces and territories could extend the time between COVID-19 vaccine doses, Alberta confirmed it will be doing so.
Starting March 10, anyone who books a first dose will have their second dose timeline extended up to four months, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“From March 10 going forward, people who book vaccinations will only be able to book their first appointment and they will then receive a reminder at a later date to book a second dose.”
Anyone who books an appointment before March 10 will still be able to book their second vaccine dose, and any second dose vaccine appointments already booked will be honoured.
According to Hinshaw, the change was recommended after evidence showed protection against serious infection or death was present after the first dose.
“We’ve seen research from other jurisdictions that indicates one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine offers a huge boost in immunity, with Canadian data indicating about 80 per cent protection after the first dose.”
Data from a study out of the United Kingdom released this week showed a stable 70 per cent protection level for several months after just one dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Hinshaw said it’s important for Albertans to still receive that second vaccine.
The change will allow the province to get the first dose of vaccine to more people more quickly, she said.
“The more people we can offer this protection to in the coming weeks and months, the more effective we will be at stopping spread.”
To date, Alberta has administered more than 255,280 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and about 89,000 Albertans are fully immunized.
In the last week alone, Hinshaw said about 20,000 doses of vaccines were administered.
First outbreak involving COVID-19 variant
The province’s first outbreak involving a COVID-19 variant was also announced on Wednesday.
A case was identified at Churchill Manor in Edmonton on Friday. Since then, 33 staff and residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the company said.
“As of today, 29 residents are currently positive for COVID-19; of those 25 residents are in the community,” Kristy Grange, president Atria Retirement — which owns Churchill Manor — said in a statement to Global News on Wednesday.
“Residents, who have tested positive, remain in their apartments, where they are in isolation and receiving care from Alberta Health Services nurses who wear full PPE. Four staff members have also tested positive.”
“Since the pandemic began, our life’s work has been to keep it out of our communities. Every mask, every glove, every COVID-19 test, every minute of quarantine, every meal delivered, every Facetime chat with a family member, and every other infectious disease protocol has been a weapon in the war against COVID.”
Hinshaw said Wednesday that 19 of the cases tested positive for a variant.
“Local public health teams and the operator are taking this outbreak extremely seriously and working closely together to limit spread and protect everyone involved,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw said residents of Churchill Manor received their first dose of vaccine on Monday as scheduled. While that would not have protected those already exposed, she did say it will help them build up their immunity more quickly.
Hinshaw said the rapid increase of cases at this facility shows the importance of following COVID-19 protocols in daily life.
“The more that the variant and the more that the currently dominant strain spread in the community, the more likely it is that we could have reintroductions into these locations that are vulnerable, where there is that potential for rapid spread,” she said.
“The serious consequences of COVID(-19) are not behind us and we all must contribute to keeping our community safe.”
New, stronger protocols on what to do if a variant was detected at care facility were introduced last week. Churchill Manor has been following those, Hinshaw said.
A combination of enhanced lab testing and rapid screening is being used in addition to those protocols in place as well, she added.
Anyone visiting the facility will need to wear a mask and eye protection continuously.
As has been the case for months, any staff working at a facility with an outbreak is not permitted to work at another facility.
“I know any outbreak is concerning and AHS and the operator are working hard to prevent further spread and protect the health of everyone involved,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw confirmed an additional 409 cases of COVID-19 had been reported over the previous 24 hours. More than 10,400 tests were performed, putting the province’s positivity rate at about 3.9 per cent.
There were 16 new cases of COVID-19 variants reported, bringing the provincial total to 508.
There were 251 people in hospital and 48 of those people were in the ICU.
Hinshaw also announced an additional 12 deaths had been reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours.
Two of the deaths announced were linked to outbreaks in the Edmonton zone. A man in his 80s linked to the Lifestyle Options, Terra Losa outbreak and a woman in her 60s who was linked to the outbreak at the Misericordia Community Hospital have died. Both cases included comorbidities.
There were six deaths reported in the Calgary zone. Of those, four were linked to outbreaks. A woman in her 80s, a woman in her 70s and a woman in her 90s who were all linked to the Intercare Southwood outbreak have died. A man in his 50s linked to the Vecova group home outbreak has also died.
Elsewhere in the zone, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 70s have died.
All deaths reported in the Calgary zone included comorbidities.
There were two deaths reported in the South zone: a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 80s. Both women had known comorbidities.
Two women in their 70s in the North zone also died. One of the cases included known comorbidities, while the other had no known comorbidities.
“Please know you are not alone and there is help to support you during this difficult time,” Hinshaw said to the families and loved ones of those who passed.
Alberta’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 1,902.
There were 4,649 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta as of Wednesday afternoon’s report. To date, 127,903 people have recovered.