All adults in Alberta will be offered at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Thursday.
The commitment came a day before the one-year anniversary of Alberta’s first presumptive case of the deadly virus.
Speaking at Thursday’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Shandro and chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw outlined next steps in the roadmap for widespread immunizations in Alberta.
Shandro said the province would soon offer 495,500 more Albertans the chance to be protected from the virus.
“Today’s announcement is an exciting step forward,” Shandro said.
Hinshaw said that by the fall, all Albertans 18 and older will have the option to be protected by both necessary doses of the vaccine.
“Today’s announcement about expanding our immunization campaign is great news for our province,” said Hinshaw.
“This will make a world of difference in our ongoing battle with COVID-19. Widespread immunization will help us all return to a more normal way of life more quickly. Choosing to be immunized is one of the most important actions we can take for ourselves and for our communities.”
Within two weeks, Albertans between 65 and 74, as well as Indigenous persons 50 or older, regardless of where they live, will be eligible for their first shots.
Bookings for Phase 2A of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will begin the week of March 15, as more than 437,000 Albertans will be offered shots.
Staggered appointment times will be offered according to age group by year of birth. Those born in 1947 will be eligible on the first day of Phase 2A, followed by anyone born in 1948 the following day, and so forth. Appointments can be booked through participating pharmacies, online or through Alberta’s Health Link system.
Further details will be announced in the lead-up to those dates.
First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people at least 50 years old will also be eligible to get the jab the week of March 15. Those living on-reserve can book appointments through First Nations and Inuit Health and their local health centres, while those living off-reserve can start booking online or via pharmacies when appointments open.
Staff and residents in supportive living facilities for seniors who are not already vaccinated will also be able to book appointments that week.
Shandro touted Health Canada’s approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week as a boost to the province’s plans to ramp up immunizations. Health Canada also previously approved COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
Starting March 10, 58,500 AstraZeneca vaccine doses will be available to Albertans 50 to 64 included in Phase 2D of the province’s schedule. Those in Phases 2B and 2C are ineligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine due to age, chronic health conditions or living arrangements.
The province said the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective at preventing serious illness and death in those under 65, according to current evidence.
Anyone between the ages of 50 and 64 who does not have a severe chronic illness will be able to book an appointment for the vaccine online or wait to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine when Phase 2D formally begins in early May.
Bookings for AstraZeneca will start with Albertans born in 1957. If supply exists, those born in 1958 to 1971 will be offered a chance to book in the following days, rolling one year at a time.
AstraZeneca shipments are expected to begin arriving in Alberta next week.
“Some of those doses are set to expire next month, so we will move quickly,” Shandro said.
“Both Dr. Hinshaw and I recommend that all healthy Albertans get immunized as soon as they are eligible, no matter what vaccine option is provided.”
On Wednesday, Hinshaw said Alberta would follow the lead of other Canadian provinces by delaying second-dose appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine up to four months after first doses are administered.
The change in wait times between appointments from six to 16 weeks “is about providing the most benefit to the most people,” she said, based on a recommendation by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
The province entered Step 2 of its relaunch plan earlier this week, with relaxed rules for gyms and libraries.
“More vaccines are going to mean an ability to get to Step 4 quicker for all Albertans,” Shandro said, adding the provincial government’s COVID-19 cabinet committee would review key data from this week at its next meeting on Monday.
The health minister said the committee will examine “if the leading indicators that were a concern for this week continue to be a concern or whether we can proceed with the remainder of Step 2.”
He said Thursday’s announcement “should bring hope to us all.”
“Getting the COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of the type, is the right choice. The faster that people step up to get vaccinated, the faster we protect our communities and reduce the burden on the health-care system,” Shandro said.
“The bottom line, widespread vaccination will help all Albertans get back to normal life sooner.”
The province had administered 266,231 vaccine doses as of Wednesday, representing 6,021 shots for every 100,000 Albertans. Nearly 89,800 Albertans have been immunized with both necessary doses of the vaccine.
Alberta also reported 331 new COVID-19 cases from close to 9,500 tests on Thursday for a 3.5 per cent positivity rate, bringing the total number of active cases across Alberta to 4,613. Of those, 36 per cent, or 1,645, were in Alberta Health Services’ Calgary zone.
There were 245 Albertans infected by the coronavirus in hospital, including 47 being treated in intensive-care units.
Alberta reported nine more fatalities related to COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing its coronavirus death toll to 1,911 since the pandemic began.
There have now been 541 total variant cases of the virus recorded to date, with 33 new infections reported Thursday. Of that total, 531 have been of the strain first identified in the U.K. and 10 have been of the strain first identified in South Africa.
Speaking about Friday’s anniversary of the pandemic’s grip on Alberta, Hinshaw said the past year has been dominated by uncertainty.
“We’ve had to find new ways to work, socialize and look after our health,” she said.
“Despite the changes, challenges and losses we have encountered, we have proven just how resilient Albertans are. We are close, we just need to keep going until we have widespread immunization.”