Infectious disease expert warns not enough Albertans have had a 3rd COVID-19 vaccination

Though Alberta is expanding eligibility for fourth dose COVID-19 vaccinations next week, one infectious disease expert is sounding the alarm, saying not enough of the population has received a third dose yet.

Starting April 12, Albertans 70 years and older, Firsts Nation, Métis and Inuit people ages 65 and older and all seniors in congregate care facilities can receive a fourth dose.

The provincial government says the increased eligibility is in line with recent recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Alberta, says it is an appropriate start, but more can still be done. 

“The issue is we have a poor uptake of the third dose, and that’s really impacting what we’re seeing right now of people getting more ill,” said Saxinger.

According to the province’s website, 86.7 per cent of eligible Albertans 12 years and older have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and under 40 per cent had received a third dose by mid-March.

Saxinger says two doses doesn’t offer the best protection against new variants.

“We are seeing people come in who are double-dose vaccinated and at least modestly ill so they are coming in with COVID-19 and they, by in large, tend to be … 50, 60, 70 years olds that might have had their two doses and considered themselves done,” she explained.

“People are sometimes generally surprised how ill they are getting despite getting two doses of vaccine,” Saxinger added. “A lot of them are not opposed to getting a third dose, they just haven’t got around to getting it.”

According to the province, the BA.2 variant makes up about 80 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, which could increase transmission and admissions to hospital, but officials say the number of patients in care remains stable.

“As more Albertans get back to normal, we will see cases and virus levels rise and fall,” Alberta’s Health Minister Jason Copping said in a Wednesday news release.

“However, these fluctuations do not necessarily require the measures we’ve put in place before. The number of COVID-positive patients in hospital remains stable at this time. The total number of patients in our hospitals is also stable, within normal capacity overall, and in line with the level at this time of year before the pandemic.

“We’re well-positioned to manage some increase in admissions if we see that, and Albertans have access to vaccines and antiviral treatments for protection against severe outcomes. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated with every dose you’re eligible for and to stay home if you’re feeling unwell,” Copping added.

In addition to expanding eligibility for a fourth dose, the province also announced Wednesday it was expanding the eligibility for Paxlovid – and antiviral drug to treat COVID – to include First Nations, Métis and Inuit people age 45 and older who are unvaccinated or have only one dose and people in long-term care and designated supportive living settings.

Starting on April 12, children age six to 11 will also have access to the Moderna mRNA vaccine.

You can also receive a fourth dose if you need to meet international travel requirements.

You can book a COVID-19 vaccine by calling 811, through a participating pharmacy or online. 

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