Vaccines curbing infection, death rates among Alberta seniors, data suggests

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COVID-19 mortality and infection rates among Alberta seniors have declined alongside the early stages of the province’s immunization program, data shows.

Among deaths from COVID-19 reported in the past two weeks, 53 per cent involve an Albertan aged 80 or over. Of Alberta’s 1,980 total deaths, 64 per cent are in the 80-plus age group.

The difference in mortality is even more pronounced in deaths at continuing-care centres, where the novel coronavirus has done the most damage. In the last 14 days, 30 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have been in the facilities, compared to 62 per cent of deaths all-time.

Continuing-care centres have also benefited from fewer outbreaks in recent weeks, even as case rates in the community climb. As of Friday, six facilities in the Alberta Health Services Calgary zone have active outbreaks, down from 48 two months prior, shortly after Alberta completed COVID-19 immunizations for all long-term care staff and residents who wanted the jab.

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As well, fewer seniors are getting infected with the coronavirus. In the past two weeks, 1.5 per cent of new cases are in Albertans 80 and over, less than half of the 3.9 per cent of all-time cases that have been found in the age group.

The decreased rates of infection and death among the group are signs Alberta’s vaccination campaign is reducing symptomatic cases of COVID-19.

Immunizations for Albertans turning 75 or older in 2021 began Feb. 24. COVID-19 vaccines become effective about two weeks after they are administered. As of Friday, 76 per cent of Albertans in that eligible group have got their first shot.

Jabs for the 80-plus age range are especially vital, as 22.4 per cent of those Albertans who have tested positive for COVID-19 eventually died of the virus.

Earlier this week, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said despite positive effects of vaccines, Albertans must continue to follow the spirit and letter of public-health rules.

“While immunizations will eventually protect those who are most vulnerable, we are not yet at a point where we have protected this whole group,” Hinshaw said.

While Albertans 80 and older are seeing some reprieve from COVID-19 infections, case rates are rising among all other age groups.

Younger Albertans are also experiencing severe illness from the virus. Earlier this week, Hinshaw said 88 per cent of those in ICU with COVID-19 are below the age of 65.

National data released Friday by the Public Health Agency of Canada also shows that while the number of cases has declined in Canadians aged 80 and older, incidence rates are highest among young adults aged 20 to 39.

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Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said infections among younger, more mobile and social age groups pose an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations.

Some of the decrease in incidence rates among older Canadians is a result of inoculation efforts, Tam said.

She added there’s no reason the effectiveness of vaccines seen among seniors won’t translate to younger groups, adding that an escalation of Canada’s rollout to include as many people as possible with at least one dose could slow the pace of variant spread.

Variant cases continue upward trend

Alberta reported another 668 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday, as well as 207 more cases of more-contagious variants of the virus.

All 207 new variant cases are the B.1.1.7 strain originating in the United Kingdom. There are now 1,803 active variant cases in Alberta, making up 24.5 per cent of all active cases provincewide, the largest proportion to date.

While the B.1.351 strain first found in South Africa and the P.1 variant that originated in Brazil have both been detected in Alberta, only B.1.1.7 has seen widespread transmission. Of Alberta’s 2,833 variant cases, 2,808 are the B.1.1.7 strain.

The 668 new cases Saturday came from 11,522 tests, representing a 5.8 per cent positivity rate, in line with the seven-day average.

The province reported one new death Saturday, bringing its toll to 1,980.

Hospitalizations declined slightly for a second consecutive day, though admissions to intensive-care units rose. There are now 283 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, including 65 in ICUs.

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By end of day Friday, Alberta had administered 577,223 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, 18,460 more than the previous day.

It has now been 100 days since the first Albertan, an Edmonton respiratory therapist, got the jab.

In that time, 481,771 Albertans have received at least one of the two necessary shots of COVID-19 vaccine. That’s 10.9 per cent of all Albertans, and 14 per cent of adults in the province.

According to federal vaccine distribution forecasts, Alberta will receive more than 383,200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week.

The province is slated to get 175,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine next week, part of the 1.5 million doses on loan to Canada from the United States. As well, 140,400 doses of Pfizer and 67,400 doses of Moderna are scheduled to arrive in the province.

— With files from The Canadian Press

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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