Lack of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine forces Alberta to focus on second doses, health minister says

An announcement that Canada will not get any Pfizer-BioNTech next week means Alberta will have to change its vaccination rollout plan and concentrate on giving second doses to those who have already been vaccinated, the province’s health minister says.

Tyler Shandro said Tuesday he was “extremely concerned” by the news that Pfizer will decrease the amount of COVID-19 vaccine coming to Canada from its factory in Belgium, with no doses expected to arrive next week and further anticipated reductions in the following two weeks.

“With fewer vaccines arriving, we have no choice but to focus on delivering second doses for those who have already been vaccinated,” Shandro said in a statement.

“All new first-dose appointments for eligible health-care workers are being postponed. Some second-dose appointments will also need to be rescheduled in the coming weeks.”

Vaccine has been reserved to ensure the province can provide second doses to all long-term care and designated supportive living residents, Shandro said.

“At this time, we believe Alberta Health Services will also be able to provide second doses to health-care workers within the established window,” he said. “However, some uncertainty exists because it is unknown how much vaccine will be received by Canada in the first two weeks of February.”

‘We lack supply’

A sharp decrease in vaccines coming to Alberta may also further delay plans to expand vaccination to all seniors over the age of 75 and all people over the age of 65 in First Nations communities and Métis Settlements, he said.

“We would like to vaccinate many, many more Albertans as soon as possible, but we need more vaccines. Alberta has the capacity to deliver about 50,000 doses per week and rapidly expand distribution, but we lack supply. Whether we like it or not, Canadian provinces are dependent on the Government of Canada for vaccine supply.

“This is frustrating, but the factory issues in Belgium are out of our control. We will continue to use what we have to protect as many Albertans as possible. And we will continue to inform Albertans of any changes to our vaccination plans.”

WATCH | Dr. Deena Hinshaw discusses Pfizer shortage

With uncertainty in the supply of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Alberta Health Services is adjusting planning of the rollout and doing everything they can to get second doses to those who have received their first dose, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday. 1:27

Alberta reported another 17 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday and 456 new cases of the illness. There were 11,096 active cases in the province with 740 people in hospital, including 119 in ICU beds.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said the news from Pfizer may result in the shifting of some second-dose appointments in the province.

“Alberta Health Services is working as hard as possible to make sure that people know what to expect and when they can, and how they can, book their second doses,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday at a news conference. “So I ask for people to be patient.”

Moderna vaccine used for 2nd doses

The province has some Moderna vaccine that is being used to offer second doses, she said.

“As you likely can understand we just received that news [about the Pfizer vaccine] this morning,” Hinshaw said, “and so we’re working very hard to adjust all of our planning, our spreadsheets and our forward appointment bookings.”

Alberta Health Services was doing that work on Tuesday, she said.

“I don’t have a specific ability to say exactly how that will roll out, especially because we don’t yet know exactly how much Pfizer vaccine we’ll receive the first two weeks of February.

“What I can say is that second-dose vaccines for those who live in long-term care or designated supportive living are our top priority, and getting second doses for those very high-risk individuals will be prioritized.”

The province will do everything it can to provide second doses to those who were given their first vaccines within the approved window of time, Hinshaw said.

“Some of those second-dose appointments may need to be moved but we don’t yet have that determination. It will depend, again, on the work that’s being done today and over the next several days once we get further determination of our February numbers.”

Latest numbers

As of Tuesday, 92,315 doses of vaccine had been administered in the province, an increase of 2,501 from the day before.

With the 17 deaths reported on Tuesday the total since the beginning of the pandemic last March now sits at 1,464.

Active cases in the province declined by 827 compared to Monday with the total now 11,096. 

The R-value from Jan. 11 to 17 was:

  • Provincewide: 0.84 (confidence interval) 0.81-0.86.
  • Edmonton zone: 0.81 (confidence interval) 0.77-0.85.
  •  Calgary zone: 0.79 (confidence interval) 0.79-0.85.
  • Rest of Alberta: 0.88 (confidence interval) 0.84-0.92.    

The R-value is essentially the number of people infected by each infected person. It’s known as the reproduction number, or R-number.

The regional breakdown of active cases by health zone on Tuesday was:

  • Calgary zone: 4,249
  • Edmonton zone: 3,875
  • North zone: 1,499
  • Central zone: 1,050
  • South zone: 407
  • Unknown: 16

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