Premier Jason Kenney announced the changes to speed up the vaccine distribution Tuesday while at the same time announcing additional public health restrictions to once again slow the spread of COVID-19, particularly variants of concern.
“In the race between the variants and the vaccine, the variants are most definitely winning now,” Kenney said.
“Right now we are in a transition period, fighting to keep control of the virus just a little while longer until it is vanquished by vaccines… There is no question that vaccination is our ticket out of this.
“This is the end of the tunnel, it is our path to recovery, it is our path to freedom.”
Kenney said Alberta is able to speed up the vaccine rollout because the province received nearly 400,000 doses in the last week.
“With vaccine supply increasing, we are ramping up the rollout to a whole new level,” he said.
Phase 2B includes Albertans born between 2005 and 1974 with underlying health conditions, including cancer patients, transplant recipients, people living with disabilities, dementia and other conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe outcomes of COVID-19. (See full list below).
Those eligible can book appointments through the Alberta Health Services online portal, by calling Health Link at 811 or through a participating pharmacy. Appointments can be booked starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday, April 7.
AHS warned Tuesday morning that 811 and the online booking tool were experiencing high volumes of people seeking appointments. If 811 rings busy, AHS recommends trying later in the day.
Alberta Health Services said it has made enhancements to the online booking tool to allow up to three additional family members who are eligible to receive their vaccine to book at the same time and at the same clinic.
Anyone who was eligible for vaccine through Phase 1 or Phase 2A and has not booked an appointment can still do so.
AstraZeneca vaccine rollout
Alberta also announced Tuesday that Albertans between the ages of 55 and 64 (born 1957-1966) who do not have chronic underlying health conditions can make an appointment to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at one of the more than 800 participating pharmacies across Alberta.
Alberta received about 175,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Thursday, Kenney said. He noted that the doses arrived ahead of schedule; the province was expecting the doses on Monday.
At the end of March, Alberta temporarily paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in those under the age of 55 after a recommendation from Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
The move came after reports of rare instances of blood clots in people in Europe. Kenney stressed that there have been no reports of these blood clots in Canada to date.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective at reducing severe illness from COVID-19,” he said.
Albertans in the 55-64 age group can choose to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine right away or wait to receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine when Phase 2D opens in May.
Rapid flow-thru vaccine sites being set up
The premier also announced Tuesday that the province is in the process of setting up several rapid flow-through vaccination clinics this week in Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
“Government and Alberta Health Services are working with those municipalities to secure large facilities that can safely accommodate large volumes of people to be immunized in a short period of time,” Kenney explained.
These sites are meant to help keep up with vaccine demand as supply ramps up.
Pharmacies to open to walk-in vaccinations
Participating Alberta pharmacies will soon be allowed to offer walk-in vaccinations for those eligible, Kenney said Tuesday. This is change from the by-appointment-only approach currently in place.
Kenney said additional information will be shared once this is available to pharmacies next week.
Alberta’s vaccine rollout to date
As of April 5, Alberta had administered 734,403 doses of vaccine and 123,272 Albertans had been fully vaccinated with two doses.
Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu took to Twitter on Monday evening to share that 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered across Canada.
Alberta has received 1,078,215 vaccine doses, according to Hajdu, meaning the province had 370,733 doses on hand as of Monday night.
In a statement, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said the province is administering vaccine as quickly and safely as possible, adding there will always be some day-to-day fluctuation in the percentage of doses administered.
McMillan said more than 34 per cent of Alberta’s vaccine supply has been delivered in the last five days.
“It takes a little time to administer more than 370,000 doses but we are moving as quickly as possible,” he said Tuesday.
“As new shipments are received, we briefly have a larger supply as they are shipped across the province and then administered.”
Kenney said by the end of May, nearly half of Albertans will have achieved some level of protection, whether through immunization or natural immunity.
“We believe once we have reached that point we can reach higher capacity limits, to have larger gatherings that are allowed and to move forward substantially.”
Kenney said Alberta is well on its way to providing any adult who wants a vaccine their first dose by the end of June.
“Potentially we could look forward to lifting almost all restrictions — fairs and festivals would be able to proceed,” Kenney said of the potential for further reopening of society by the end of June.
Concern about vaccine uptake so far
Kenney said the province is concerned that, so far, “the take-up on the vaccines has been a little lower than we initially projected.”
“I think there’s always a hardcore anti-vaxx crowd that is, for whatever reason, dogmatically opposed to vaccines in general and this vaccine in particular. There’s probably not a lot of utility in trying to argue with those folks. We can put out the information but they’re going to make up their own minds.”
About two-thirds of the population is keen to get the vaccine, he estimated, adding there’s about 15 per cent of people somewhere in the middle.
“The key is, there’s a piece in between — about a 15 per cent segment in between — whose attitude has been sort of wait and see,” Kenney said. “‘We’ll wait and see if this thing is safe, how it goes.’ Now that we’re five months into vaccines being used here and around the world, I think it’s increasing the confidence level of that segment of the population,” he said.
“I think they’ll come around and I’m optimistic that we will exceed our 75 per cent target at the end of the day.”
The province plans to “redouble its efforts,” according to Kenney, to encourage Albertans get the vaccine when they are eligible. Hinshaw said this includes using pharmacists and physicians to spread the word.
“We know that it’s really important for people to hear not just from official sources in government, but from the people they interact with on a daily basis,” Hinshaw said.
“We’re also working to meet with a whole bunch of different stakeholder groups to make sure that different organizations and different levels of government have access to the most recent information around vaccines so that we can answer their questions directly and help support them as they serve as champions of the importance of protection via vaccines.”
Albertans receiving vaccine ahead of eligibility
Global News has spoken with some Albertans who have received their COVID-19 vaccine ahead of schedule, as pharmacies work to use up leftover doses.
As for how many Albertans have received vaccine ahead of being eligible, Alberta Health said it does not have a figure available.
“Anecdotes aside, there is currently no evidence to suggest that the more than 800 participating pharmacies are widely misusing doses or not following the correct approach,” McMillan said.
He said all pharmacies are given “explicit guidance” on booking appointments and utilizing a waitlist.
“Waiting lists are used to help ensure that doses which would otherwise expire at the end of a day are used. We are working hard to ensure vaccines do not go to waste,” he said.
“Pharmacies can include a variety of individuals on the waiting list, but are required to align it with Alberta’s immunization approach.
“The waiting list must prioritize giving expiring vaccines first to people who already eligible in the current or previous phases. From there, pharmacies must prioritize individuals eligible in the next birth years of Phase 2B, Phase 2C and, if still no one is available, offer the expiring vaccine to the oldest individual possible.”
Eligible health conditions in Phase 2B
Phase 2B applies to all Albertans born in 2005 or earlier with any of the following conditions:
- a missing spleen or a spleen that is no longer working
- chronic heart disease and vascular disease
- chronic kidney diseases requiring regular medical monitoring or treatment
- chronic liver disease due to any cause
- chronic neurological disease
- chronic respiratory (lung) diseases
- diabetes requiring insulin or other anti-diabetic medication to control
- a weakened immune response due to disease or treatment
- anyone who is currently pregnant
- severe mental illness or substance use disorder requiring a hospital stay during the past year
- severe obesity
- severe or profound learning disabilities or severe developmental delay
- solid organ, bone marrow or stem cell transplant recipients
For more specific details on the eligible conditions, visit the Alberta Health website.View link »