Premier Jason Kenney said the province is now in a place where it can administer upwards of 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine per week, if supply keeps up.
Kenney made the announcement Monday morning, just over an hour before two new rapid flow-through vaccination sites opened in Calgary and Edmonton.
The rapid vaccine sites at the Edmonton Expo Centre and Telus Convention Centre in Calgary opened Monday by appointment only.
Kenney said the sites will offer the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to those aged 55 to 64.
“It’s an opportunity possibly to get vaccinated this afternoon, tomorrow,” Kenney said.
Kenney said he toured the rapid flow-through site in Edmonton with Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Mayor Don Iveson over the weekend.
“It’s a sight to behold,” Kenney said.
The premier said each of the rapid flow-through vaccine sites will be capable of administering about 1,000 doses per hour and 6,000 per day.
“This is a huge addition.”
Kevin Korchinsky received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Expo Centre on Monday. The 58-year-old describes the mass vaccination site as organized.
“They had everyone corralled. It’s just like going through customs at the airport. Everyone’s going through the lines,” he said.
Selene Tash, executive director with AHS Community Health Services – Edmonton zone, said they were working through a few kinks on opening day.
“It’s our first day on the site. We’re looking at workflow, patient flow and making sure we’ve set up the site optimally. We’ve got staff that are immunizing for the first time. They are trained up but it takes them some time to get some routine. We have experienced staff who are supporting them,” she said.
The site at the Expo Centre will only be administering AstraZeneca vaccine for the next seven days but is capable of handling other vaccines, Tash said.
There are currently 80 immunizers on site but the clinic has the ability to have up to 160 immunizers.
“It will allow us to ramp up as we need to. When we get surges with vaccine supply, we have a way to actually book people in and get large volumes of people in and get immunizations completed,” she said.
Those with appointments are being asked to wait in their vehicles until five minutes before their appointment to avoid congregating.
Tash also said that they are using a different model to administer vaccinations.
The traditional model of immunization sees immunization stations set up where the vaccinator stays in one spot and the person being vaccinated comes in, gets immunized and leaves.
Tash said a model developed in Ontario has clients staying in chairs and a vaccination station coming to them on a mobile cart.
“So we have an immunizer and we also have a scribe, so doing all the documentation and the electronic medical record. You can cut the immunization time in about half – instead of ten minutes per immunization you can get to five minutes per immunization,” Tash said.
Calgary’s site proved particularly popular, with people lined up out the doors and down the street. At around 11:30 a.m., AHS said the wait time at the clinic was about 30 minutes.
“This has been resolved and the site is seeing a steady flow of clients,” AHS spokesperson James Wood said in a statement at around 3:20 p.m.
“All clients with pre-booked appointments are being moved through the process in a quick, safe manner. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work to provide vaccine to eligible Albertans as quickly as we can.”
With the two additional sites in Edmonton and Calgary, Kenney said Alberta now has more than 1,300 pharmacies and 103 vaccine sites administering doses across the province.
Alberta is also in talks with physicians to offer the vaccine at doctor’s offices, with more details on that plan expected soon, according to Kenney.
“The province is now on pace to administer more than 300,000 life-saving vaccine shots each week,” Kenney said, adding the “stretch goal” would be to administer 500,000 doses per week, supply dependent.
On Monday morning, Alberta began Phase 2C of its vaccine rollout plan, with more than 240,000 additional health-care workers now able to book their immunization appointment. This group includes nurses, doctors, dentists and any health-care workers in patient care facilities or those who provide direct patient care in the community.
Due to limited vaccine supply, all other groups in Phase 2C will become eligible in the coming weeks.
There has been a growing call by a number of organizations to shift priority groups in Phase 2C to include other frontline workers, such as firefighters, transit drivers and teachers.
The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said if the government is prioritizing keeping schools open, then the people working in them should also be a priority.
“Teachers keep asking me about vaccinations and why they are not included higher up in the priority list,” Jason Schilling said Monday.
“We have teachers who are working in large classrooms, overcrowded classrooms. They don’t necessarily have the best ventilation and we are seeing this constant… working in school and then pivoting online to an online situation and back and forth and it’s been a hard, challenging year.”
Calgary’s fire chief appeared at city council Monday morning, saying COVID-19 cases in the department, coupled with isolation for close contacts, has impacted resources.
When asked about the vaccine priority in Alberta, Kenney said they continue to follow the advice of provincial and national advisory councils on the vaccine program.
“Their advice has very much been to focus on people who are vulnerable to severe health outcomes from COVID-19 or those who might be at the highest risk for transmission like nurses in ICU units,” Kenney said.
“In the context of a scarce number of vaccine doses, if we were to say that a healthy, robust 25-year-old firefighter gets in the vaccine queue ahead, right now, of a 65-year-old with chronic conditions, that in no way reflects the real risk profile here.
“Young, healthy people generally are not negatively affected — they can be, but in a tiny number of cases. But the higher you go up in the age spectrum and the more chronic conditions that you have, your changes of negative outcomes increase massively. So that’s why Dr. Hinshaw and the Alberta scientific advisory group, plus the federal one, have all advised that in a world of scarce doses, we focus on the people who are most vulnerable to negative outcomes.”
More than 1.7 million Albertans are now eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, according to the province.
Kenney stressed Alberta is still in a race between vaccines and variants of concern. As of Sunday, variant cases of COVID-19 made up 50.5 per cent of all active cases of the disease in the province.
As of Monday, there were 14,849 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, with variant cases of concern making up 51.3 per cent of active cases.
“Right now, the variants are winning that race,” Kenney said, adding the third wave of COVID-19 is hitting Alberta hard, which is why the province made the decision to move back to Step 1 of its path forward last week, with additional public health measures put back in place.
“Right now, we’re in a transition period — fighting to keep control of virus just a little while longer until it’s vanquished by vaccines.
“Vaccines remain our best hope,” Kenney said. “More doses means catching up to the variant spread and once the vaccines beat the variants, we get our freedom back.”
Kenney said Alberta received about 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine over the last couple of weeks. Alberta is scheduled to receive about 119,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine each week until early June, when that number is expected to jump to 225,000 doses per week.
Kenney said Alberta should receive its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine in early May, although a set timeline for that shipment has not been set by the federal government, he said.
“As more doses arrive, we will keep accelerating our rollout,” the premier said.
Kenney once again outlined Alberta’s goal for its vaccine rollout timeline, which aims to have every adult Albertan vaccinated with their first dose by the end of June, supply dependent.
He said in the next few weeks, about a quarter of Albertans will have “some degree of immunity either through the vaccines or from prior infection.”
By the end of May, Kenney expects that fraction to rise to about half of Albertans. By the end of June, about two thirds of Albertans will have some protection and by mid-September, about three quarters, Kenney explained.
“To be clear, that figure is protective coverage; it’s not vaccines administered, because according to our epidemiologists — Dr. Hinshaw and her team — the vaccine does not provide 100 per cent effectiveness. And that is particularly true of the first dose in the double-dose vaccines.
“When we talk about one dose for all adults by the end of June, that does not mean 100 per cent protective coverage.”
As of April 11, Alberta had administered 932,258 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and 176,941 Albertans had been fully vaccinated with two doses. The province said its vaccination rate is 20,853 doses per 100,000 population.
Appearing on Shaye Ganam’s show on the Corus radio network earlier Monday morning, the premier the province’s direction to Alberta Health Services has been to keep vaccine inventory as low as possible, but admits it takes some time to distribute the supply after it arrives in the province.
“We’re going as fast as we can,” Kenney said.