Alberta rolls out second-dose appointments in 3 phases starting Tuesday

Some Albertans can begin to book their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine starting on Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced.

People vaccinated in March can book their second dose appointment starting this afternoon. Albertans who got their first dose in April can start booking on June 14 and people vaccinated in May can do so on June 28.

“This is the start of opening Alberta for summer and getting Alberta back to normal,” said Kenney.

Bookings for second doses will not be first come, first served; they will be sequenced in the order first doses were administered, the premier said.

“To ensure that everybody receives them at significantly less than the maximum 16-week interval,” said Kenney.

He added people who have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine should have their second dose by the end of the summer.

“We’ll continue to prioritize first doses for anybody who wants to be vaccinated,” said Kenney.

The province has administered 2,413,959 first doses — 63.4 per cent of eligible Albertans aged 12 and older. Kenney added that 10.4 per cent of eligible Albertans have been fully vaccinated.

“Going forward, we expect to be able to shorten the window between first and second doses even further for those who are still booking their first shot,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro. “As long as the supply allows, the interval for Pfizer and Moderna… will be lowered over time to a minimum of three to four weeks.”

Shandro asked Albertans to wait their turn when it comes to booking second doses, as booking before you are eligible can “cause delays” for AHS and pharmacies. He added timelines could be moved up if the vaccine rollout goes quicker than expected.

Alberta also reported 209 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. There are now 6,771 active cases and 438 Albertans in hospital, including 127 patients in ICU.

The province also said there had been one new death due to COVID-19 since Monday.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, added there are active alerts or outbreaks of COVID-19 in 417 schools, amounting to 17 per cent of schools in the province. 

“This includes outbreaks and alerts that were opened before the two-week online school shift and these are closing gradually,” said Hinshaw.

Preliminary data on the effects vaccines have had on active case counts and hospitalization numbers would be released next week, according to Hinshaw.

ANXIETY OVER ASTRAZENECA

The timeline for receiving a second dose of AstraZeneca is being shortened to a minimum of eight weeks, according to the health minister.

“AstraZeneca remains a safe and highly effective option,” said Shandro. “That being said, we recognize that some Albertans who received AstraZeneca have concerns.

“After carefully reviewing the evidence from other jurisdictions, we will offer Albertan a choice: they can get another shot of AstraZeneca as a second dose or a mRNA vaccine instead, like Moderna of Pfizer.”

The decision to allow vaccine mixing is in line with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendations, according to Shandro.

Both options would count as having received a complete series of vaccine in Canada, Hinshaw said. She added the eight-week waiting period for AstraZeneca “gives a better overall protection than getting a second dose sooner than that.”

“Albertans who choose to receive a second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine should know that the risk of blood clots, known as VITT, after the second dose of AstraZeneca so far appears to be lower than with the first dose,” said Hinshaw.

“They remain extremely rare.”

In the United Kingdom, 9,000,000 second doses of AstraZeneca were used and only 15 VITT cases have been reported, according to Hinshaw.

Based on trials in the U.K when mixing doses of AstraZeneca and Pfizer, people tended to experience more general reactions like fever and aches, as opposed to those who received two doses of AstraZeneca, according to Hinshaw.

Hinshaw also said there has been concern over supplies of the Moderna vaccine.

“No matter what vaccine you received for your first dose, we will have a second dose available for you,” said Hinshaw.

SCREENING FOR VARIANTS

Alberta has developed a way to screen positive COVID-19 tests for the B.1.617 variant first discovered in India, according to Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan.

The province screened all positive test results for variants of concern between late January and late April, but reduced it when the third wave hit the province.

“While the variants are concerning, we are also seeing cases decline sharply, which is positive and increases our ability to identify cases and act quickly to prevent broader transmission,” said McMillan.

Alberta will resume screening all positive tests for variants beginning Tuesday, according to Hinshaw.

“We know that vaccines work. Even against these variants, we know they prevent severe outcomes like hospitalizations and death,” said Kenney.