Alberta maps out next stages of vaccine eligibility, reports 65 new variant cases of COVID-19

Once Phase 2A is complete, the province will shift to Phase 2B — likely in April — which would open eligibility for adults with severe underlying conditions

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Alberta has laid out its plan for the next stages of vaccine eligibility, as another 65 variant cases of COVID-19 were detected in the province Monday.

Appointments for Phase 2A of the province’s vaccine rollout opened Monday morning, with 8,000 eligible Albertans signing up for their time slots within the first several hours. Bookings through Alberta Health Services for those eligible will expand to include Albertans born in 1948 or earlier and First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals born in 1963 or earlier at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Phase 2A will continue expanding until bookings are available for Albertans born between 1947 and 1956, and Indigenous individuals born in 1971 or earlier. As well, staff and residents of licensed seniors supportive-living facilities who were left out of the first phase will be eligible.

More than 437,000 Albertans qualify for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines under Phase 2A.

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“I’m so grateful for everyone who is signing up. I know many others are eager for their turn, and we were asking everyone to please be patient,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, during Monday’s press conference.

Once Phase 2A is complete, the province will shift to Phase 2B — likely in April — which would open eligibility for adults with severe underlying conditions. Hinshaw said they have carefully considered the list of qualifying conditions and released the full list on Monday, which is available at alberta.ca/covid19-vaccine.

The list includes chronic heart disease, vascular disease, asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen, diabetes, immunosuppression, pregnancy, severe mental illness, substance use disorders, learning disabilities, and organ, bone marrow or stem cell transplant recipients. Chronic kidney, liver, neurological and respiratory diseases also made the list.

Each of these conditions has specific stipulations that are listed online. For example, mild or well-controlled asthma isn’t considered a severe underlying condition of respiratory disease.

However, people with underlying conditions will not need a note from a doctor or pharmacist when they book or attend their appointment.

“We will be operating on the honour system, which is the same approach being taken by Ontario and other provinces,” said Hinshaw.

She encourages people to consult with their doctor or pharmacist if they have any questions about whether or not they qualify.

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Phase 2C is expected to launch in late April, Hinshaw said, as she provided updated information about those who will be eligible in this stage.

Included in this phase are residents and support staff at specific congregate living and work settings that are at risk for outbreaks, including correctional facilities, homeless shelters, meat-packing plants and group homes. This would include front-line police, transport and court sheriffs who work closely with eligible congregate populations.

Health-care workers such as pharmacists, dentists and other regulated health-care professionals, including students undertaking placement practicums in clinical areas and health-care workers on First Nation reserves, will also become eligible. And the vaccine will also be offered to caregivers of Albertans who are most at risk of severe outcomes such as designated family or support people of those in long-term care and up to two caregivers for children under 16 who have chronic conditions but can’t receive the vaccine themselves.

“Together, these phases represent a vast group of Albertans. More than 660,000 Albertans will be eligible under Phase 2B and another 400,000 will be able to book in Phase 2C,” said Hinshaw.

It will take some time to provide a vaccine to everyone who wants one in these stages, Hinshaw said.

“Vaccines save lives and their benefits far outweigh any risks. I continue encouraging everyone to book an appointment to be immunized,” she added.

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“Until then, we must continue protecting each other. We must not let our guard down.”

Alberta detects 65 variant cases, 255 people in hospital

Alberta detected another 65 variant cases on Monday, all of them the B.1.1.7 strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

This brings the total of B.1.1.7 cases in the province to 967, while there have been 16 cases of the B.1.351 variant identified in South Africa and two of the P.1 strain discovered in Brazil.

Of the 985 variant cases reported to date, 474 remain active.

Alberta reported 364 new cases, which came from 6,618 tests for a positivity rate of about 5.5 per cent. There are 4,811 active cases provincewide.

The province’s R-value averaged 1.07 last week, meaning the transmission rate was increasing.

As of Monday, there were 255 people in hospital, including 42 in intensive-care units. This a slight increase from the 248 hospitalizations and 38 ICU admissions reported the day before.

Three COVID-19 deaths were reported Monday, including a woman in her 90s from the Calgary zone, a man in his 60s from the South zone and a man in his 80s from the Edmonton zone. The provincial death toll sits at 1,949.

Alberta has now administered 368,124 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 91,593 people have received both shots.

Alberta Health Services transitioned bookings for the AstraZeneca vaccine through its Health Link’s phone line only until supply is fully depleted. Bookings remain open for Albertans born between 1957 and 1961 and Indigenous individuals between 1972 and 1976.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered reassurances on the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Monday as the list of European countries suspending its use due to safety concerns grew.

Germany joined others in Europe pausing their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over reports of blood clots in some recipients, even though European regulators say there’s no evidence the shot is to blame.

Health Canada regulators are constantly analyzing all the available information about vaccines and have guaranteed those approved in Canada are safe for use, Trudeau told reporters in Montreal.

— With files from The Canadian Press

sbabych@postmedia.com
Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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