Alberta is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine booster eligibility to include everyone 18 years of age and older.
Health Minister Jason Copping said Wednesday afternoon that third doses will be offered in stages, beginning with older Albertans first.
Third doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be offered to Albertans 60 and older first, starting on Monday. Albertans who are in this age group can begin booking appointments for their third dose starting on Thursday.
Before receiving a third dose of vaccine, eligible Albertans must wait until at least six months have passed since they received their second dose, the health minister said.
Booster doses are based on birth date, Copping said, meaning Albertans must wait until they turn 60 to book their appointment.
With the booster rollout going in stages based on age, Copping said he anticipates bookings for all Albertans 18 and older will be open by early next year. The timeline of the rollout will depend on the uptake for booster shots and the availability of vaccine.
“With the winter season increasing transmission risks, and more Albertans approaching the six-month milestone since receiving their second dose, the evidence supports expanding booster doses to add an additional layer of protection,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“Vaccines continue to be our best protection against COVID-19, and I continue to encourage Albertans to book their first, second and third doses as soon as they are eligible.
“We will move as quickly as we can through age groups as long as we have sufficient supply.”
Boosters will be offered at 1,400 pharmacies across Alberta, AHS sites, some physician clinics and clinics on First Nations.
Up until now, COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are available to all Albertans 70 and older, as well as to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people 18 and older. Immunocompromised people 12 and older with specific conditions, residents and seniors supportive living facilities, travellers to areas where mixed vaccine doses are not recognized, some health-care workers and other adults who received the AstraZeneca/Covishield or Janssen vaccine are also currently eligible for a third dose of vaccine.
Earlier this month, Health Canada approved booster doses of both the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna vaccine for all adults 18 and older. Both approvals stated six months should pass between an individual receiving their second and third doses.
Hinshaw said when booster doses were first offered to those with an increased risk of waning protection a month ago, there wasn’t conclusive evidence that supported the need for boosters for the general population.
Hinshaw said since then, more evidence has emerged from around the world and right here in Alberta.
“The protection against severe disease and hospitalization remains high even after two doses for most individuals,” Hinshaw said. “But those who are older and those with chronic conditions have a greater risk of severe outcomes if they have breakthrough infection. Because of this, and given the fact that increased transmission risk in the winter months is lining up with some waning vaccine effectiveness against infection over time, the current evidence supports expanding booster doses to add an additional layer of protection.
“We still have many people in our communities who have no protection, so offering third doses to more people will be one additional measure to help boost population protection and minimize the spread of COVID-19 going forward.”
On Tuesday, the federal government asked the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to quickly provide the latest directives on the use of boosters, in the context of the new Omicron variant of concern.
So far, NACI has recommended booster shots for seniors, front-line healthcare workers, long-term care residents and other high-risk groups.
Hinshaw said the booster expansion is in line with Alberta’s Advisory Committee on Immunization’s discretionary recommendation that all Albertans 18 and older be offered a booster six months after their second dose.
To date in Alberta, 378,507 Albertans have received a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Copping said that the definition of “fully vaccinated” in Alberta, where it applies to the Restrictions Exemption Program, will still be two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine.
2 additional cases of Omicron variant identified in Wednesday’s COVID-19 data
Alberta identified 430 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. About 10,800 tests were completed and the province’s positivity rate was 4.1 per cent, Hinshaw said.
Of the new cases, two were the Omicron COVID-19 variant of concern. Hinshaw said these cases were identified in a returning traveller from South Africa and the Netherlands, as well as a close contact. Both were vaccinated, Alberta Health said.
Alberta identified its first case of Omicron on Tuesday. The case was in an individual returning from Nigeria and the Netherlands “about one week ago.” The individual was not vaccinated, Alberta Health told Global News.
Hinshaw said all three people with the Omicron variant are experiencing mild symptoms and are recovering at home.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 are slowly declining, Hinshaw said, with 424 in hospital with COVID-19 on Wednesday. Of those, 79 people were being treated in the ICU.
“It is important to note that these numbers are still very high and current ICU COVID numbers are double the peak of ICU impact from an average influenza season,” Hinshaw stressed.
Seven additional deaths were reported in the last 24 hours.