Alberta to roll out COVID-19 vaccine in 3 phases; seniors, frontline workers to get it first

EDMONTON — More than 400,000 seniors and staff in continuing care homes and frontline workers will get the COVID-19 vaccine between January and April, the Alberta government announced Wednesday.

Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta will begin to receive shipments as early as Jan. 4, after Health Canada approve the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both proven to be approximately 95 per cent effective after trials.

The premier appointed Municipal Affairs Deputy Minister and Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk to lead the province’s vaccine taskforce. He already spearheaded the province’s PPE roll out at the start of the pandemic.

“This is an absolutely critical task,” Kenney said. “Smooth and rapid vaccine distribution will not only be essential to our economic recovery but it will be a matter of life and death for many Albertans and their families.

The vaccines will be stored in 30 depots across the province and be rolled out in three phases.

The premier explained the Moderna vaccine has to be stored at -20 C, and the Pfizer vaccine has to be even colder, at -80 C.

Thirteen of Alberta’s storage depots are capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine, he said, and the government is ordering more freezers.

KENNEY STRONGLY URGES ALBERTANS TO GET VACCINE

Phase 1, from January to March, includes 435,000 Albertans — or 10 per cent of the population — in continuing care facility residents and staff, seniors aged 75 and older, First Nations residents 65 and older, and health care workers who may transmit COVID-19 to the most vulnerable.

“We believe, based on our current planning and assurances of vaccine, that the most vulnerable, the folks who are by far and away most affected by this disease, should have received vaccines by the end of March,” Kenney said.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, explained the province decided to protect these high-priority groups first to save lives and ease the burden on the health system.

“We know that long-term care residents and those who care for them have shouldered a heavy burden throughout this pandemic. There have been more than 3,100 cases in long-term care facilities and supportive living sites, and sadly, 64 per cent of our reported deaths have been from among these Albertans,” Hinshaw said.

“We also know that when health-care workers are exposed to or contract COVID-19, they’re out of the workforce until they are well.”

Phase 2 starts in April and runs through the summer, and although it’s undecided who will be in it, the government is aiming to have 30 per cent of the population immunized by the time it ends.

The last phase is scheduled to start in September. Any Albertan can be vaccinated then.

“We need as many Albertans as possible to get vaccinated,” Premier Jason Kenney said.

The vaccine will not be mandatory, which he admits is controversial, but said he will get it and strongly urged other Albertans to do the same.

Albertans who get vaccinated need two injections, three to six weeks apart.

Kenney, Hinshaw and Health Minister Tyler Shandro expressed promise and relief about the vaccine, but reiterated the importance of following health guidelines this month and during the first wave of immunization.

“We can’t lose sight of the tremendous challenge that’s in front of us today,” Hinshaw said.

“We must continue to work together over the coming months to keep our numbers down until enough Albertans have received their full series of vaccine to keep COVID under control.”

HOSPITALIZATIONS SURPASS 500

Alberta reported 1,685 new cases of the coronavirus and 10 more deaths linked to the disease.

There are 17,144 Albertans battling COVID-19. Just over 500 are in hospital, and 97 of them are in ICU.

Alberta Health Services asked the Canadian Red Cross for help if the hospital situation worsens.

No decision has been made, Shandro said Wednesday, but the Red Cross could create pop-up treatment centres like the one outside the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary.

“This is a conversation that was had with Red Cross to understand if that was even possible,” Shandro said.

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