Alberta's active COVID-19 case count continues to fall as its vaccination numbers go up.

The province reported on Monday 639 new cases amongst roughly 9,800 tests conducted the previous day. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that left Alberta with a positivity rate of 6.1 per cent.

She also reported 23 more deaths, bringing the province's death tally to 1,307.

There are 811 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19; 130 of whom are in ICU.  

These numbers, the top doctor noted, underscore the importance of Alberta's vaccine program.

"Albertans can be proud of the way we have brought our numbers down over the last month," Hinshaw said. "We have more to do, but we are bending the curve. And we must keep up this momentum in the days ahead."

VACCINE PROGRAM OUTPACING SUPPLIES: KENNEY

Premier Jason Kenney joined the Monday news conference to announce the province was likely to soon surpass 50,000 vaccine doses administered – or three-quarters of its supply.

Throughout the first days of the new year, Alberta has averaged about 3,800 vaccinations per day.

"By the end of January, I'm confident that we'll have the capacity to administer about 50,000 doses per week, and we'll continue to increase our capacity partly by partnering with pharmacies across the province," Kenney said.

"Our stretch goal is, for the end of March, to be able to vaccinate up to 200,000 people per week."

He qualified the plan was contingent on Ottawa securing and distributing more doses to the provinces.

Alberta expects to have received 677,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March, but at current inoculation rates, Kenney said his province would run out of its current supply within a week.

"All I see is red on our projections from the week of Jan. 18 to the week of March 29; the red represents a shortage of supply."

He said he has urged Ottawa to do everything it can to meet demands faster, such as approving vaccines by other producers – like the United Kingdom has done with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

Hinshaw said she and other premiers have discussed considering delaying the second dose of the vaccine – which would be administered to Alberta's first vaccinated people next week – in order to offer the protection of a single dose to as many people as possible. In both Pfizer and Moderna's trials, the latest the second dose could be administered was 42 days. Hinshaw said if a decision was made to extend that interval, it would be applied going forward.

NDP and Official Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said Albertans should be able to hear from the vaccine taskforce itself, rather than the premier who needs to rebuild trust with the public following the travel scandal in his caucus. 

"It is obviously something that is going to distract this premier from the critically important job of making vaccine rollout job number one." 

VACCINE SKEPTICISM

Hinshaw spent several minutes speaking about the safety of the vaccines, stressing that in nearly 50,000 administrations, Alberta had only counted seven adverse events. Those consisted of swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, rash, or allergic reaction. She said the adverse event rate was "roughly comparable" with that of pneumococcal vaccines.

"What we have seen so far is consistent with what was reported in the vaccine trial. It is common to see side effects like fever or muscle aches after a vaccine. This is a sign that the immune system is working to build antibodies. I believe the benefits of vaccines far outweigh any risks, and this vaccine will save lives."

As suggested by a recent Angus Reid survey, Alberta has the highest number of people who are unwilling to receive a COVID-19 vaccine: 20 per cent. The number was unchanged from a December poll.

The premier said the province was dedicating resources to educating the public and promote its vaccine program.

"There's always an element in the public who are anti vaccine generally, and who are skeptical about vaccines and quite frankly for those who are hardcore committed to that position… I think that's a group that is almost impossible to persuade," Kenney commented.

"The wait-and-see folks, they'll have they'll have time to wait and to see that this is safe."

He said a vaccine likely won't be offered to the general public until the second half of 2021.

Experts don't anticipate herd immunity will be achieved before 70 per cent of a population is immunized, Hinshaw added.

That afternoon, the officials also announced the vaccines would be offered to an expanded list of health care workers, including paramedics and emergency medical responders.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta welcomed the news, which it said it had been lobbying the health ministry and Alberta Health Services for for weeks.

“Paramedics have been walking into uncontrolled circumstances since the beginning of this pandemic as the first point of contact for Alberta’s sickest patients,” Mike Parker, HSAA president, said in a news release.

“We are eager to see the plan for when paramedics will start getting the protection they need to ensure they continue to be there for Albertans.”

Eligible workers were told to expect an email from AHS to make an appointment.

The Alberta Fire Fighters Association applauded the government's decision but said all first responders should be included in the first phase of the rollout.