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Alberta to begin Phase 2A of COVID-19 vaccine rollout March 15; plan for AstraZeneca vaccine released

Click to play video: 'Alberta to begin Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccine rollout the week of March 15' Alberta to begin Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccine rollout the week of March 15
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announces that Phase 2A of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will begin the week of March 15. – Mar 4, 2021

Alberta is speeding up its COVID-19 vaccine rollout by opening up bookings to eligible Albertans in Phase 2A of the vaccine program earlier than first anticipated.

The province will begin offering vaccination appointments to Albertans 65 to 74 years old starting on Monday, March 15. This phase includes about 437,000 eligible Albertans, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday. Originally, the province estimated Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout would start in April.

Read more: Extended gap between COVID-19 vaccine shots could fast-track vaccination: feds

Shandro said the approach to booking vaccine appointments will be adjusted for the next phase, after issues with the website and 811 booking system arose when Phase 1B launched last month.

Alberta Health said bookings will be offered in one-year intervals. On the first day — March 15 — anyone born in 1947 will be eligible to book their appointment. On Day 2 of Phase 2A, anyone born in 1948 can book their appointment and so on.

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During Thursday’s news conference, the health minister initially said appointments would be available in two-year increments each day. However, a spokesperson with Alberta Health later clarified that bookings would be made available in one-year increments.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis people 50 years old and older can also begin booking appointments starting on March 15.

Shandro said Albertans can book an appointment through the online tool, by calling 811 or through participating pharmacies. Appointments will begin the same or following day, the province said.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 vaccines set to be delivered at some Alberta pharmacies' COVID-19 vaccines set to be delivered at some Alberta pharmacies
COVID-19 vaccines set to be delivered at some Alberta pharmacies – Feb 24, 2021

Alberta’s plan for the AstraZeneca vaccine

In addition, Shandro announced Alberta’s rollout plan for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved by Health Canada for all adult Canadians on Friday. The first doses of the vaccine arrived in Canada on Wednesday.

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Read more: Canada receives 1st AstraZeneca vaccine shipment as confusion lingers

However, on Monday, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) announced it is not currently recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine be used on people 65 or older.

The NACI said there is limited data from clinical trials about how effective the AstraZeneca vaccine is for seniors and recommends that they be given priority for the two other vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – already approved for use in Canada.

Because of this, Shandro said Alberta will only administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to healthy adults 64 years old and younger — in line with NACI recommendations.

Beginning March 10, the province will offer 58,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to eligible Albertans aged 50-64 in Phase 2D who do not have severe chronic illness. Albertans born in 1957 can begin booking their appointments on March 10.

Click to play video: 'Alberta to begin offering AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to those eligible' Alberta to begin offering AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to those eligible
Alberta to begin offering AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to those eligible – Mar 4, 2021

As long as supply lasts, those born between 1958 and 1971 will be able to book in the following days one year at a time, the province said.

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Shandro said Albertans in this age group have the option of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine right away as supply lasts, or waiting until they are eligible for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines at a later date.

Read more: Alberta to start extending time between COVID-19 vaccine doses as 1st variant outbreak declared

Both Shandro and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health stressed the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective at preventing severe illness and death in those under 65.

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“Both Dr. Hinshaw and I recommend that all healthy Albertans get immunized as soon as they are eligible no matter what vaccine option is provided,” Shandro said. “AstraZeneca works. It has shown to reduce infection by 60 to 70 per cent and severe outcomes like hospitalization by 80 per cent.

“Where this vaccine seems to differ is in preventing asymptomatic infection, which means reducing the spread of COVID-19. This is why we’re not using it in any congregate living settings like seniors housing.”

Read more: Provinces, territories can wait 4 months to administer 2nd COVID-19 shot, NACI says

Hinshaw said all three approved vaccines have gone through rigorous approval processes to ensure they are safe for all Canadians.

“All three vaccines help protect against serious outcomes or long-term health impacts that COVID-19 can cause for many people. They dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. If those reasons don’t resonate with you, please know widespread immunization will help us all return to a more normal way of life more quickly,” she said.

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“Choosing to be immunized is one of the most important actions we can take for ourselves and for our communities.”

Phase 2B of Alberta’s vaccine rollout plan includes people 18 to 64 with high-risk underlying health conditions. Hinshaw said health officials are still working to determine which conditions would fall in this group.

“We’re looking at published literature, we’re looking at our own data from the past year to understand which of those conditions are those that do pose a significantly higher risk of severe outcomes,” she explained.

“Once that final list is verified we’ll be able to share that.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta pharmacies start giving COVID-19 vaccines' Alberta pharmacies start giving COVID-19 vaccines
Alberta pharmacies start giving COVID-19 vaccines – Mar 4, 2021

All Albertans to receive 1st vaccine dose by June 30: Shandro

The accelerated vaccine rollout news, coupled with Wednesday’s announcement that Alberta will extend the time between COVID-19 doses by up to four months, means all Albertans over the age of 18 will have access to their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, Shandro said.

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“We now expect to offer all Albertans aged 18 and over a first dose of vaccine by the end of June provided that — and I should put an asterisk here — provided that the promise of vaccine shipments actually arrive as scheduled as we were told by the federal government,” Shandro said.

“Let me repeat. By June 30 we expect to have offered every single adult in the province at least one dose of COVID-19.”

Click to play video: 'Province hopes to offer all Albertans 18+ first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by end of June' Province hopes to offer all Albertans 18+ first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by end of June
Province hopes to offer all Albertans 18+ first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by end of June – Mar 4, 2021

As of March 3, Alberta had administered 266,231 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. So far, 89,786 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses.

COVID-19 daily numbers

Alberta recorded 331 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and nine additional deaths from the disease. The provincial positivity rate was 3.6 per cent, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

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There were 245 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday, 45 of whom were being treated in intensive care.

Of the nine deaths reported Thursday, three were in the Calgary zone. Two deaths were linked to the outbreak at Bethany Calgary: a woman in her 90s and a woman in her 100s. A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Southwood Intercare also died. All three deaths included comorbidities.

Read more: Extended gap between COVID-19 vaccine shots could fast-track vaccination: feds

There were three deaths in the Central zone. A man in his 40s linked to the outbreak at Olymel Red Deer, a woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at Michener Services and a man in his 50s died. All of these cases included comorbidities.

Click to play video: 'Alberta identifies 331 new cases of COVID-19, records 9 additional deaths from the disease' Alberta identifies 331 new cases of COVID-19, records 9 additional deaths from the disease
Alberta identifies 331 new cases of COVID-19, records 9 additional deaths from the disease – Mar 4, 2021

There were two deaths in the Edmonton zone: a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Covenant Health St. Joseph’s Edmonton and a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at St. Thomas Health Centre. Both deaths included comorbidities.

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A man in his 80s in the North zone who was linked to the outbreak at Bonnyville Extendicare also died. His case included comorbidities.

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