Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta will now be administering AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to people age 40 and over.
The premier made the announcement Sunday evening via social media.
“This decision is based on growing scientific knowledge about the vaccine and is based on Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health’s advice,” Kenney tweeted. “Details will follow tomorrow (Monday) morning and bookings will open for Tuesday.”
The province’s move comes after Canada’s federal health minister Patty Hajdu said provinces and territories were “free to use” AstraZeneca’s vaccine on any groups aged 18 and above, despite the country’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendation not to give the vaccine to those under 55.
The NACI first recommended the vaccine to not be given to those below 55 in late March, citing concerns over reports of blood clotting.
While this has heightened hesitancy towards the vaccine, experts have since pointed to female birth control and smoking as being more likely to induce blood clotting.
“We are no longer worried about common routine clot risk. That has been evaluated and it shouldn’t be a factor in the decision making,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta.
“It’s kind of like the risk of say, something like a general anesthetic or even less risky than that. And we usually don’t have people saying that they don’t want an anesthetic for their surgery based on a rare risk like that.”
Dr. Stephane Smith, an infectious disease physician at the University of Alberta Hospital, said the move is great and that the data suggests issues with blood clots are “incredibly rare.”
“Right now, certainly the risk of getting COVID and having severe outcomes, including blood clots, would be way higher with COVID than it would be with the vaccine,” she said.
“We have quite a lot of supply of AstraZeneca and we really have not been able to get it into arms, so that’s not doing us any good sitting in a fridge.
“We really need to try to get the information out to people that are maybe a bit hesitant and see these issues of serious adverse events related to the vaccine and that makes them not want to get it and maybe just try to get people to understand what the risks truly are.”
In a news release Monday morning, Alberta Health said those born in 1981 or earlier will be able to book their appointments for the AstraZeneca vaccine through participating pharmacies and Alberta Health Services starting on April 20.
Alberta Health said the decision to lower the eligibility age to 40 was also based on the limited supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“This balances the need to focus on those most at risk of severe outcomes with the goal of getting these vaccines into arms as quickly as possible,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said.
Lowering the eligibility age means an additional 575,425 Albertans can be vaccinated, the province said. Currently, about 2.3 million Albertans are eligible to receive vaccine.
The province said its decision to lower the eligibility age for AstraZeneca to 40 from 55 was made based on public health recommendations and the benefit the vaccine offers weighed against the “small risk of adverse events from this vaccine.”
“I recommend any Albertan who is 40 or older consider getting the AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as possible,” said Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw in a news release.
“I know some Albertans have concerns about recent cases of blood clots. This is understandable, and it is also important to remember that these cases are extremely rare. This vaccine helps prevent the much higher risks that come from COVID-19 infection, helping to protect both you and those around you.”
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson falls into the 40-plus age group and said he will book his shot at the earliest possible appointment.
“I’m one of those people,” he said Monday. “I’ve actually already gone on to try to see whether I could log on. I gather I can’t make an appointment until tomorrow morning but rest assured, I’m going to do my best to fit that in around my schedule this week.
“It’s up to all of us to help stop the spread of this virus. One of the best ways we can each play a role in supporting each other, supporting our health systems and supporting our economic recovery is to get immunized and I plan to do that at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Brent Kossey lives in Edmonton and turns 40 this year. He saw the premier’s tweet Sunday night and said it was exciting news.
“I was thinking probably at the earliest in June… I thought it’d be in that last cohort to go through,” he said. “There’s a sense of optimism, for sure, that I haven’t felt in a long time — that this could perhaps be a first step to a return to normalcy.”
Kossey said he has no hesitancy when it comes to taking the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I think it’s safe to say that the public relations for AstraZeneca hasn’t been great, but I trust that the scientific evidence has shown that this will be a good step forward for us.
“I don’t have any vaccine hesitancy, myself.”
Lindsay LeBlanc, a professor at the University of Alberta, is 39 years old but will turn 40 next month.
“It’s the best year ever to turn 40,” she said with a laugh.
LeBlanc said she was relieved to hear the news that the age limit had been lowered for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I’m doing it because I believe any vaccine is the best vaccine. Looking at the relative risks, I mean it’s very, very low compared to driving to the vaccine clinic,” she said.
LeBlanc has an appointment booked Tuesday at 9 a.m.
“It’s a huge relief. I feel like it’s just the right thing to do,” she said.
Jordan Majeau, 40, is the general manager at the Radisson Hotel Edmonton South and was also excited to hear about the new age limit.
“As a hotel GM who has had to temporarily close our hotel twice in the last year, anyone working in the hospitality industry, we’ve had a sense of powerlessness where we are trying to operate in an era where we have no real control,” he said.
“When I heard the vaccine was going to be available for those of us 40 and over, it represented a step of us being able to take back some control so we can start again.”
Majeau said he did his research, which revealed that the vaccines are reliable in reducing hospitalization and death.
“Those are the things that are most important to me,” he said.
The province said the AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to reduce infection by 60 to 70 per cent and reduce severe outcomes like hospitalization by 80 per cent.
“With COVID-19 cases at high levels throughout the province, we are lowering the age eligibility for this vaccine so that as many Albertans as possible are able to choose the protection this vaccine offers,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a news release Monday.
“The more people that get vaccinated as quickly as possible, the sooner we can protect our communities, reduce the burden on our healthcare system, and get life back to normal in our province.”
Both the European Medical Association and Health Canada have both maintained that the benefits of using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any of the risks.
“Reports of blood clots with low platelets in people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are very rare,” the Public Health Agency of Canada previously told Global News in a statement.
Two walk-in clinics opened on Saturday in Alberta, one in Calgary and one in Edmonton, which offer the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
AHS provided the following information for the number of appointments at the Edmonton Expo Centre’s rapid flow-through vaccination site, which offers only AstraZeneca at this point:
- Monday, April 12 – 1,632
- Tuesday, April 13 – 532
- Wednesday, April 14 – 280
- Thursday, April 15 – 484
- Friday, April 16 – 500
- Saturday, April 17 – 624 (408 booked appointments and 216 walk-in)
- Sunday, April 18 as of approximately 5 p.m. – 473 (240 appointments and 233 walk-in)
AHS said the no-show rate for appointments at the Expo Centre is at about one per cent.
At Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre vaccine site, the AstraZeneca appointments break down as follows:
- Monday, April 12 – 2,855
- Tuesday, April 13 – 756
- Wednesday, April 14 – 428
- Thursday, April 15 – 211
- Friday, April 16 – 414
- Saturday, April 17 – 320
- Sunday, April 18 – 296
As of April 17, more than 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca had been administered, leaving about 170,000 doses available. Alberta has received about 270,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to date.
More information on how to book a vaccine appointment can be found on the AHS website.
— With files from Global News’ David Lao and Julia Wong.