Alberta to send Janssen vaccine shipment to Banff and Wood Buffalo, health minister says

Alberta is altering the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility rules for residents of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Banff — and will redirect a large shipment of COVID-19 vaccine to both areas.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the changes Wednesday on Twitter, saying he had approved the plan earlier in the day.

The province will lower the eligibility age for the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines to people 30 and older in Banff and Wood Buffalo.

The age of eligibility for the Moderna vaccine will also be lowered to 30 and older in adjacent Indigenous communities, Shandro said.

The eligibility changes will be made “as soon as possible,” Shandro wrote.

“As soon as they arrive, we will redirect all doses of the Janssen vaccine, as supply allows, to the RMWB and Banff areas,” he said on Twitter.

“We expect to receive about 30,000 doses soon, but are awaiting exact confirmation from Ottawa.” 

Shipments of the Janssen vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, are expected to arrive in Canada this week. 

“These areas are being hardest hit by the third wave, yet seeing lower than average vaccine coverage,” Shandro said. 

Banff and Lake Louise are dealing with 158 active cases. Wood Buffalo has the highest per-capita rate of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta. The regional municipality declared a state of local emergency this week because of climbing transmission rates.

On April 1, the region had 166 active cases. On Tuesday, the number was 1,229, with all but 24 cases within Fort McMurray.

There are 17 active outbreaks in the region, including 12 at oilsands camps and work sites.

Classrooms have closed and the region’s only hospital has expanded its intensive care capacity. 

Municipal and Indigenous leaders in Fort McMurray are calling on the provincial government to bring in targeted regional measures to deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases over the last month.

In a letter, the 11 Indigenous communities in the region urged Premier Jason Kenney to focus more on restrictions, including stay-at-home orders and a community-wide curfew.

Targeted campaign needed: Kenney

On Tuesday, Kenney said he would not alter the vaccine rules for Wood Buffalo. But during a news conference Wednesday, the premier said the targeted vaccine campaign is needed. 

“As I’ve mentioned before, we have seen a significant number of vaccine doses going unused,” Kenney said, noting that vaccine clinic hours in Fort McMurray would be extended immediately to allow residents more convenient access.

Kenney said the changes were based on the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and recommendations from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer health. 

“Dr. Hinshaw, in consultation with experts, has decided that accelerating the vaccination program in those communities, which also happen to have younger populations, would be helpful in addressing the outbreaks,” he said.

Kenney said the province is scheduled to get its first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine on Monday.

“We will direct all doses of that vaccine received in the next two weeks, as supply permits, to the two highest incident areas in the pandemic … in order to help accelerate vaccine coverage in those areas,” Kenney said. 

“We’ll develop strategies with the leadership of those communities to address the vaccine hesitancy and encourage greater vaccine uptake.” 

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