More than 61,000 Albertans have now contracted the disease
Alberta reported 1,685 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 10 more deaths.
The total number of active cases in the province reached 17,144, an increase of 516 from the day before.
A total of 561 people have now died from the disease since the start of the pandemic.
The province has now surpassed 61,000 total cases, meaning about one in every 73 Albertans has so far contracted the disease.
"Around the world, there has been great progress on the development of COVID-19 vaccines," Premier Jason Kenney said at a news conference on Wednesday. "We know that effective vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna will be ready for distribution here in Canada within weeks."
While the province cannot control when those vaccines arrive in Alberta, it will be ready to roll them out as quickly as possible, Kenney said.
"That's why today I'm pleased to announce that I've appointed Municipal Affairs deputy minister Paul Wynnyk to lead Alberta's COVID-19 vaccine task force, a multi-disciplinary team drawn from across the public sector, the public service, that will execute Alberta's vaccine distribution."
Wynnyk, born in Edmonton and raised in Breton, Alta., served as an officer in the Canadian Forces for more than 38 years, rising to command of the Canadian Army, before joining Alberta's public service.
On Wednesday, Alberta hospitals were treating 504 patients with the illness, including 97 in ICU beds.
Vaccine will not be mandatory
Quick and effective distribution of the vaccine will be essential to the province's economic recovery, Kenney said, and will be a matter of life and death for many Albertans and their families.
"Before I continue, I want to be clear, Alberta's government will not make any mandatory vaccination," the premier said. "Some think that this is controversial but we don't live in a country where government can inject you with something against your will.
The government will soon amend the Public Health Act to remove the power of mandatory inoculation that has been on the books since 1910, Kenney said.
"But we need as many Albertans as possible to get vaccinated. And let me be clear about that I will certainly choose to receive this vaccine when it's my turn, and I strongly urge others to do so."
Alberta prepared for vaccine distribution
Alberta is well-prepared to receive, distribute and administer vaccines as soon as they arrive, he said.
Alberta Health Services has 13 vaccine depots throughout the province, all of which can receive and distribute the Moderna vaccine, which needs to be stored and transported at -20 C.
Another 17 facilities in the province are also able to handle vaccine storage, meaning there are a total of 30 depots across Alberta.
"The Pfizer vaccine, on the other hand, requires ultra-cold transportation and freezing, at 80 degrees below zero Celsius," Kenney said.
"Currently, three of our 13 vaccine depots can receive and store the Pfizer vaccine, and AHS is working to expand that capacity as we speak, ordering additional freezers and related equipment."
Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro attended the news conference with Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
The regional breakdown of active cases on Wednesday was:
- Edmonton zone: 7,857
- Calgary zone: 6,331
- Central zone: 1,226
- North zone: 967
- South zone: 663
- Unknown: 100