Alberta Health identified 1,646 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday.
Also Thursday, 1,020 cases of variants of concern were identified.
Variants now make up 54 per cent of all current active COVID-19 cases.
In the last 24 hours, about 17,200 tests were completed, putting Alberta’s positivity rate at 9.5 per cent.
As of Thursday, there were 416 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, including 86 in intensive care.
Alberta Health Services said Wednesday it has added 10 additional ICU beds in the Edmonton zone, for a total of 82 general adult ICU beds.
AHS said it continues to have adequate capacity in its hospitals and can expand capacity as needed, as was the case during the first and second waves of COVID-19.
Five additional deaths due to COVID-19 have been reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours, bringing the provincial death toll from the disease to 2,034.
A man in his 80s died in the Edmonton zone. His case included comorbidities, Alberta Health said. A woman in her 80s and a man in his 50s in the Central zone both passed away. Both included comorbidities. A woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at Blue Sky Lodge in the South zone died. The case included comorbidities. And a man in his 70s with no known comorbidities in the South zone died.
Hinshaw stresses safety of AstraZeneca vaccine
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health reiterated the facts about the AstraZeneca vaccine and its efficacy.
Hinshaw stressed the reported issues of blood clots are extremely rare and treatable.
“It can be easy to lose track of how rare these blood clots really are,” she said.
More than 27,500 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered in Alberta, along with 58,000 doses of CoviSHIELD/AstraZeneca, the province said.
There have been no confirmed cases of the rare blood clots known as vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia (VIPIT) in Alberta, and only one case in all of Canada, Hinshaw added.
Alberta Health says it is far more likely to experience blood clots from smoking, falling and other common everyday occurrences.
She said, in her professional opinion, the benefits of getting the vaccine outweigh the rare risks.
“The main benefit this vaccine provides is how it protects against COVID-19,” she said, adding AstraZeneca’s first dose reduces infection by 60 to 70 per cent and reduces hospitalization from COVID-19 by 80 per cent, including with the B.1.1.7 variant.
This vaccine is currently available to anyone in Alberta between the ages of 55 and 64 through pharmacies and online through AHS.
“We don’t yet have enough vaccines for everyone in our population, and those who would otherwise have to wait a month or more for Moderna or Pfizer vaccine can choose protection now instead of no protection while our transmission rates rise,” Hinshaw said.
“While not getting vaccinated might feel like a way to protect your health by avoiding the rare risk of a blood clot following vaccine, waiting can actually increase your risk of getting sick or worse.”
Hinshaw said there are also risks to waiting for a different COVID-19 vaccine and being unprotected during that wait period.
“The risk of an adverse outcome from COVID-19 infection is very real and has a much higher probability, especially with increasing age,” the province said.
“The risk of hospitalization for COVID-19 treatment in those aged 55 to 59 is approximately 1,500 times greater than the risk of VIPIT, and the risk of death from COVID-19 in this age group is approximately 125 times greater than the risk of VIPIT.”
Hinshaw urged those who are eligible for AstraZeneca to book their appointment or use the walk-in option.
“Vaccines save lives and vaccines will get us through this pandemic.”
“As soon as you are offered a vaccine, whichever it may be, please take it to protect your health and the health of those around you,” she said.
“I absolutely recognize that there will be some who want to wait for the MRNA vaccine. I just want to make sure that as they’re making that decision — whether they wait or whether they get AstraZeneca now — they’re aware of the risks of waiting as well as the benefits of AstraZeneca and the full knowledge of what that very small risk of blood clots entails.”
Walk-in AstraZeneca vaccinations
Alberta will also now be offering walk-in AstraZeneca vaccinations at 26 pharmacies in Edmonton and Calgary. They will start on Saturday, April 17 and run for five days to begin with.
AHS will also be opening two walk-in AstraZeneca clinics at the existing rapid flow clinic at the Edmonton EXPO Centre and at the Southport clinic in Calgary starting on Saturday.
Anyone who is eligible can walk in and receive a dose, Hinshaw said, no matter where in Alberta they live.
Currently, 710 pharmacies continue to offer appointments for AstraZeneca vaccine and the Calgary rapid flow clinic at the Telus Convention Centre will continue to offer AstraZeneca by appointment.
Vaccinating long-term hospital patients
Alberta Health Services said Thursday it is working to expand COVID-19 immunization services to eligible, “long-stay acute-care patients” in hospitals across the province.
Eligibility will be determined by the province’s phased rollout, the length of the patient’s stay in acute care and the patient’s medical condition. Patients will be able to receive their shot on site while in hospital if they choose, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson told Global News.
“We expect this program to be available at all acute care sites across the province within the next few weeks,” Williamson said.
On Wednesday, health officials announced Alberta had surpassed the one-million mark for vaccine doses administered.
As of April 13, 1,004,123 doses of vaccine were given.
Since many of those are first doses, the premier said it means about 18 per cent of Albertans have “some protection against COVID-19.”
The province said “every adult in Alberta will be offered a first dose of vaccine by June 30, if not sooner.”
As of April 14, 1,043,570 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Alberta. There are now 202,841 Albertans fully vaccinated with two doses.
Phase 3 of vaccine rollout
There are a lot of discussions taking place about Phase 3 of Alberta’s vaccine rollout, Hinshaw said Thursday.
“It all depends on vaccine supply… but we do anticipate that we’d be able to start Phase 3 in sort of mid to late May, again depending on the shipments of the vaccines and the timing.
“And we anticipate that Phase 3 — at that point, if we receive all the vaccine we anticipate — will only take a few weeks to move through.
“I want to reassure all Albertans who are not currently in Phase 2 that when we open Phase 3, we anticipate being able to move extremely quickly through the rest of the population,” Alberta’s top doctor said.
“Our goal is to get every vaccine that arrives in Alberta into the arms of Albertans who want it as soon as possible.”
Extra-curricular activities in Calgary must be outside
With alerts or outbreaks in 478 – or about 20 per cent – of all Alberta schools, and the decision by Calgary school districts to move learning online for at least two weeks, Hinshaw announced rule changes to extra-curricular activities in Calgary.
She said effective Monday, all extra-curricular youth sport, recreational and performance activities in Calgary will be required to either be outdoors or paused for the same two-week period.
This change is being done so “they can continue in a lower-risk setting,” Hinshaw said.
“We are seeing a sharp rise in cases among younger Albertans in this third wave, along with all other age groups.”
She stressed stopping community spread is the best way to lower Alberta’s overall case numbers.
“We all need to help reduce transmission… Social activities outside school can easily spread the virus.”
People in Phase 1, 2A, 2B and some in 2C are now eligible to book their shot at one of the 1,300 pharmacies and 103 immunization sites across the province.
More than 1.7 million Albertans are currently eligible, the government said. You can book your free vaccine appointment here.