Already had COVID-19? 'Natural immunity' is real, but you should still be vaccinated

More than a million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Alberta and the province wants to make sure everyone is properly protected against the virus.

Even when thousands of Albertans have already contracted COVID-19, health officials are still pushing for everyone to be vaccinated when their turn becomes available.

Last week, Premier Jason Kenney mentioned that he expects 70 per cent of Alberta's population to be protected from COVID-19 by at least June through either being vaccinated or “natural immunity through infection."

Officials with Alberta Health say that is a possibility, but it doesn't mean that if you caught the virus, then you're adequately protected against further infection.

Every Albertan needs to be vaccinated with the proper doses of COVID-19 to ensure they and their loved ones are protected, says Tom McMillan, assistant director of communications with Alberta Health.

"There is evidence that having recovered from COVID-19 does provide some immunity to the virus. That is what is meant by 'natural immunity,'" he wrote in an email to CTV News.

"However, evidence is still emerging about exactly how much immunity develops and how long it lasts."

McMillan says that it doesn't even matter how serious the case of COVID-19 is – all Albertans need to be immunized.

"We continue to recommend that everyone get the vaccine to protect themselves and those they love from this virus, including those who were admitted to the ICU from COVID-19. Anyone with questions should speak to their health care provider."

ALBERTANS WARY OF THE RISKS OF COVID-19 SHOTS

So far, only half of the 1.7 million Albertans eligible to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine have signed up for it.

Alberta's top doctor and even the premier have been clear that no one will be forced to be vaccinated if they don't want to, but strongly recommend that everyone does.

However, at Calgary's TELUS Convention Centre, which is supposed to be one of the largest immunization clinics in Alberta, many of the stations are left idle.

"Clearly, the information that's been released with respect to this rare risk of blood clots has changed people's willingness to get the AstraZeneca vaccine in the last few weeks," Hinshaw said earlier this week.

Other health officials say this could be an opportunity to expand the province's vaccine rollout to individuals who want to be immunized, but it isn't yet their turn.

"Having it in some individuals is better than having it in a fridge or freezer," Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert with the University of Calgary, told CTV News Friday.

Saxinger says with the rising cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, now is the time to change up the strategy.

"If we're not seeing that increase (in vaccinations) fairly promptly, then I would see it as something to discuss," she said.

"The idea of a bunch of unused vaccine sitting there while we have this burgeoning epidemic and increasing transmission is a bit of a concern."

Now, with Canada's second case of vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) being found in Alberta, it's unclear how it will affect peoples' willingness to roll up their sleeves.

(With files from Timm Bruch)