More than 36,000 eligible Albertans booked appointments Tuesday to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days, the first day the vaccine was made available to people aged 40 and older. Also Tuesday, Alberta identified 1,345 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths from the disease. (See Monday’s full COVID-19 data below).
Tuesday marked the first day those born in 1981 or earlier could book an appointment to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. It comes after Alberta announced Sunday it was dropping the eligibility age from 55 to 40, following the advice of public health officials.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw were among those to get their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine Tuesday. Both took to social media to share pictures of themselves receiving the jab.
“As I have said before, this vaccine is a good choice. In a time when exposure risk is rising sharply, the benefits of protection for anyone in this age group far outweigh the small risk of a rare blood clot,” Hinshaw said.
“With cases rising, getting immunized is the best way to protect your health and the health of those around you.”
Premier Jason Kenney, who also falls into the eligible group, said he booked his appointment to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine this Thursday.
“I’m encouraged to see much more activity at the walk-in sites,” Kenney said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 update.
“This vaccine works… The risks of adverse effects are miniscule compared to COVID-19. The risks associated with COVID are massively higher.”
Alberta Health Services said the 36,000 appointments booked Tuesday include about 8,496 appointments booked in the Edmonton zone and 20,267 in the Calgary zone.
“This is a higher uptake in one morning than over the entirety of last week, when eligibility was limited to Albertans aged 55 and over,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said.
“For context, 4,525 people received the AstraZeneca vaccine in Edmonton and 5,559 people received AstraZeneca in Calgary between April 12 and April 18.”
On Tuesday alone, about 2,726 Albertans received their AstraZeneca immunization at an AHS site. In addition, about 1,500 people took advantage of the walk-in clinics in Edmonton and Calgary.
Kenney said that about 107,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been administered by Monday night and upwards of 70,000 appointments are booked in the next 10 days.
“That’s going up by the minute,” the premier said. “Well done to everybody who is participating.”
Kenney encouraged everyone who is eligible to book an appointment as soon as possible. He said the province has about 160,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine remaining and doesn’t know when the next shipment is coming in.
“I know that bookings will only gain speed in the coming days.”
Eligible Albertans can book an appointment for the AstraZeneca vaccine through the AHS online booking tool or by calling 811. Walk-in immunizations are also available at the Edmonton Expo Centre and Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre but AHS warns walk-in appointments are limited. AHS strongly encourages people to book an appointment.
Walk-in clinics for the AstraZeneca vaccine also open April 21 in Lethbridge, Camrose, Red Deer, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray.
On April 23, walk-in clinics will also open in Brooks and Medicine Hat.
Eligible Albertans can also book an immunization appointment at a participating pharmacy.
More information on who is eligible and how to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment can be found on the AHS website.
Alberta has now administered 1,196,428 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 239,277 Albertans have been fully vaccinated with two doses.
Kenney said more than 82 per cent of Albertans 75 and older have received one dose of vaccine. About 73 per cent of those 65-75 have received a dose and about 50 per cent of Albertans aged 60-64 have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The premier said Alberta’s first shipment of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine should arrive by the end of this month or in early May.
While vaccines offer hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight, Kenney once again stressed we are not out of the woods just yet.
“As much as we’d like to believe that the jab gives us a super power, please remember that it takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to work its magic. And then we still have to get the second dose when it’s available to get the full protective effect,” he said.
“That first dose is not a licence, by any means, to ignore or go lax on public health guidelines. We still have to, all of us, keep our guard up.”
Timing of second doses for vaccines
Earlier this year, Alberta announced it would extend the interval between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to a maximum of 16 weeks, due to a limited supply.
Hinshaw reiterated Tuesday that once everyone aged 16 and over in Alberta has been offered a first dose, it will start offering second doses as soon as supply allows. This will likely be in late June, Hinshaw said, based on current supply estimates.
“If you have had a first dose, please do not yet call your pharmacy or AHS to book your second dose. It will take a few more months to get enough supply for both first doses for everyone and to begin second doses,” Hinshaw said.
“As more doses arrive in the coming months, we will look to shorten this interval whenever possible but that will likely not be until later in the year.”
Hinshaw also reiterated that Alberta will use a 12-week interval between first and second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, depending on the supply.
“The reason for this is that clinical trials for AstraZeneca showed better overall protection when the interval was longer than when it was shorter. Even if we had enough supply to give second doses sooner, the shortest interval that we would use for this vaccine would be 12 weeks.”
The extension of timing of all second doses is “based on current limited supply and evidence showing that this first dose offers significant protection,” according to Hinshaw.
The chief medical officer of health said the province is also closely monitoring emerging evidence around the timing of second doses for those receiving cancer treatment and others who are severely immune-compromised.
“We are consulting with provincial and national partners and will update Albertans if any change is made for these groups.”
COVID-19 data Tuesday, April 20
Tuesday’s 1,345 new cases came after 13,163 tests were completed, putting the province’s positivity rate at 10.4 per cent.
Alberta identified 816 new variant cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Variant cases of concern now make up about 56.9 per cent of all active cases of COVID-19 in the province.
Hinshaw said in Alberta, the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., is now the dominant strain.
“Meaning transmission is much easier and can happen faster than ever before,” Hinshaw said.
She also said Alberta is seeing growth of cases of the P.1 variant, which was first identified in Brazil. Hinshaw said community transmission of this variant is occurring in many parts of the province.
Of the 18,481 active cases in Alberta, 8,098 are in the Calgary zone, 4,899 are in the Edmonton zone, 2,543 are in the North zone, 1,900 are in the Central zone, 969 are in the South zone and 72 are not tied to a specific zone.
Hospitalizations also continued to increase Tuesday. There are now 476 people in hospital with COVID-19, 105 of whom are being treated in intensive care.
Of the five additional deaths reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours, four were in the Edmonton zone. A woman in her 100s linked to the outbreak at Allen Gray Continuing Care Centre, a woman in her 60s linked to the outbreak at Rehoboth Christian Ministries, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 70s all died. All of these cases included comorbidities, according to Alberta Health.
A man in his 60s from the North zone also died. There are no known comorbidities in this case.
Alberta’s death toll from COVID-19 has now reached 2,048.
Are further restrictions being considered in Alberta?
It’s been two weeks since Kenney announced additional public health restrictions aimed at bringing down the rise in COVID-19 cases amid Alberta’s third wave.
On April 7, measures took effect that reduced retail capacity to 15 per cent of fire code. Indoor fitness activities were also curtailed, as well as some youth sports and performance activities. On April 9, indoor dining was once again banned in Alberta, although patio dining remained open.
“While we continue to be very concerned about these high numbers — 1,400 cases a day at this point — the rate of growth seems to have come down a little bit.
“But it’s too early to take that to the bank.”
Kenney said Tuesday that the COVID-19 numbers will be monitored very closely in the coming week, because it would typically take two to three weeks for additional restrictions to make an impact.
“What we’re watching for right now is the potential increase of cases coming from Easter gatherings that might have happened a little over two weeks ago,” Kenney said.
“At the same time, we’re watching to see if the additional public health measures have limited spread.”
Kenney stressed that “the timing is so critical right now.”
“All we need to do is look at what’s happening in Ontario. That is real and if we don’t all be careful, that could potentially happen in Alberta.”
Late last week, Ontario put out a nation-wide plea amid a surge in new infections and hospitalizations, saying the province was short thousands of nurses and asked whether fellow provinces and territories had resources to spare.
“Please follow the public health measures so we don’t have to bring in additional restrictions and so that we can let the vaccines get the march on the variants,” Kenney said Tuesday.