Alberta’s first 3,900 doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived Monday and another 25,350 doses will be coming next week, ahead of schedule.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro called the announcement the “first real ray of light in the dark night that our health-care professionals have lived through for 10 months now.”
In a Monday afternoon news conference, Shandro said the Pfizer vaccine has been stored in ultra-cold freezers in Calgary and Edmonton and staff are being trained to administer the vaccine, which will first go to intensive care unit staff and respiratory therapists and eligible continuing care staff in those cities.
Shandro said the latest news means that about 29,000 of health care workers will get their first of two vaccination shots by the end of the month.
“They can all be first doses,” he said. “We don’t have to hold back any of that portion for the second dose.”
As well, a “significant number of doses” of the Moderna vaccine — not yet approved in Canada — are expected to begin arriving later this month, he said.
“It won’t require ultra-cold storage so we hope to get it to the first continuing care residents before Dec. 31.”
Shandro said they can get the vaccines out as fast as possible but reminded Albertans the process will take months.
If people, encouraged by the vaccine news and improving infection statistics, let down their guard “it will cause a whole new crisis,” he warned.
“It’s not over. These next few weeks are going to be the toughest yet. But relief is on the way and it’s starting this week.”
Shandro said because the vaccine must be administered at the delivery sites in Edmonton and Calgary they cannot get to continuing care facilities yet but said that will happen “very, very soon.”
The province is already geared up for widespread vaccine delivery. The number of dedicated vaccine locations has been expanded to eight sites across the province.
Paul Wynnyk, chair of the province’s COVID-19 Task Force, said ultra-cold freezers have been installed at eight locations and shipments of the vaccine will be arriving at those sites next week.
These doses will be provided to respiratory therapists, intensive care unit physicians and staff, and eligible long-term care and designated supportive living workers across the province.
Eight more cold storage units will arrive by the end of the month and another 20 are coming in January.
As well, seven storage units designed for the Moderna vaccine are arriving this month with another 16 scheduled to arrive next month.
“We are truly, truly well prepared,” Wynnyk said. “Albertans can be confident this vaccine is safe and will be administered efficiently without compromising quality.”
“These vaccines represent the start of a routine to normalcy and the protection of our most vulnerable.”
Alberta medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said 1,887 more COVID cases were identified on Sunday and 20,000 more tests completed with a positivity rate over eight per cent.
There are 716 people in hospital, 136 of them in the ICU. Fifteen people have died from the virus in the last 24 hours bringing the number of deaths to 733.
Hinshaw said there were signs that case numbers had hit a plateau over the last week, but cautioned that a single week’s data does not indicate a trend and daily case remain high.
Hinshaw said the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine ahead of schedule is “good news and a little bit of hope in a difficult time.”
To begin immunizing long-term care residents, a vaccine needs to be available that can easily be stored and transported long distances, she said.
“We do not yet have the ability to do this onward transport from the sites that are receiving the initial shipments,” she said.
So far, there have been more than 5,000 cases of COVID in long-term and acute care facilities across Alberta, she said.
Hinshaw was asked if the sooner-than-expected arrival of the vaccine meant full immunization might happen earlier than next fall as projected. It is difficult to use the current experience to predict what might happen months down the road, she said.
As more vaccines arrive in January, the focus will be on Phase 1 priority populations, including long-term care and supportive living communities, followed by seniors over 75 and those 65 and older on First Nations reserves, and Inuit and on-site Metis seniors.
City of Red Deer now has 408 active cases, according to the geospatial map on the government’s COVID website. Red Deer County has 105 active cases, Sylvan Lake has 55, City of Lacombe 32, City of Wetaskiwin 58, Lacombe County 65, Olds 27, Clearwater County 69, Mountain View County 35, and County of Stettler 22.
Collectively, Ponoka County and Wetaskiwin County have 271 active cases.