Alberta trying to balance COVID-19 vaccine appointments with supply

Alberta Health Services is trying to find the right balance between making appointments available for people eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and the number of doses it is getting from the federal government.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a series of tweets that “Alberta has the capacity to deliver 50,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine per week…. Providing vaccinations isn’t the issue – supply is.”

“Due to a shortage of the Moderna vaccine this week, AHS was unable to complete planned vaccinations of about 2,000 continuing care residents in South, Central and Edmonton zones,” Shandro said.

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He also said the Central zone ran out of vaccine over the weekend, numerous sites in the North zone ran out over the past few days and the South zone had to reduce the number of available appointments.

“In the Calgary zone, approximately 1,500 available appointments for health-care workers had to be closed so vaccines would be available for vulnerable long-term care and designated supportive living residents,” the health minister said, pointing a finger at the federal government’s “slow vaccine deliveries.”

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Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Wednesday that AHS isn’t cancelling appointments but rather removing open appointment slots to match the amount of doses available.

“I don’t believe there’s been a large number of people who were scheduled to show up and that their appointment has been moved,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

“The impact has mostly been in closing down possible appointments that were open and available so people can’t book into them.”

She explained Alberta is expecting two vaccine shipments at some point this week. One has arrived and the other is still expected to arrive later this week.

“It will have an impact. Anytime we have to move that around, of course, it can take longer for people who are currently eligible to receive a vaccine, to book an appointment and to get those doses.”

Her continued direction to AHS, she said, is that residents in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities are a top priority.

“The rollout of vaccination to those individuals did need to be the number one goal as they were looking at rolling out vaccine as quickly as possible… I believe that’s been reflected in the fact that they have been able to hit the mark of making sure they’re giving that particular group of people access really quickly.”

But she praised AHS for adapting to ever-evolving situations.

“Alberta Health Services is doing a tremendous job at making sure they’re constantly monitoring their supply, forecasting for appointments and trying to reduce any inconvenience in people having to be rescheduled,” Hinshaw said.

“They’re doing that by closing off potential appointments in advance so people aren’t inconvenienced.”

She explained it’s always going to be a matter of finding that balance as vaccine availability changes in pace and volume.

“One of the challenges – if we have a smaller group of people who are eligible when we don’t necessarily know how quickly they may be coming in to take up the vaccine, we wouldn’t want to have appointments that could have been taken left empty, because we don’t have enough people coming in the door,” Hinshaw said.

“We also of course want to avoid a situation where we have so many people eligible that they’re needing to wait very long times to get their appointments.

“We’re trying to strike that balance where we have enough people eligible where we’re able to always fill our available appointments, so there will always be a bit of a need for people to wait and be patient. But of course we always want to expand on that leading edge so we’re not leaving appointment space open and unfilled.”

Adjusting available vaccine appointments won’t be uncommon, Hinshaw said.

“Certainly in the coming weeks, this will be an occurrence that’s relatively common as we work to get the doses we have into the arms of Albertans as quickly as possible.”

Nine satellite vaccine clinics have opened in emergency departments in hospitals around the province, the province said Wednesday, with more than 425 emergency department staff already vaccinated.

As more vaccine becomes available, additional clinics will be opened for eligible staff.

Hinshaw said details about how Phase 1B (set to include Albertans over age 75 and anyone over 65 living on First Nation reserves or Metis settlements) will likely be announced “in the coming weeks.”

“We are looking at multiple options,” she said. “We know we have many providers that support our annual influenza program… pharmacy partners, physician partners.”

Alberta Health is also creating a vaccine-specific advertising campaign to “help inform Albertans of why they should get immunized.” A spokesperson for the ministry said the government will be “taking steps to remind Albertans of the safety and benefits of these vaccines, and to encourage all Albertans to get vaccinated when they’re eligible.”

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Alberta Health has identified 875 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours. Over the same time, it completed more than 16,000 tests, meaning Alberta’s positivity rate is about 5.3 per cent.

“We are seeing some positive numbers,” Hinshaw said.

“The reduction in our positivity rate is encouraging. The reduction in our new daily cases is also encouraging. And our hospitalizations and ICU admissions — which are also the metric that tells us how much this is impacting our acute care system — are slowly coming down.”

But she said Albertans must hold out a little longer.

“There’s lots of reasons to be optimistic… and that’s not true of all locations around the world. But we can’t ease up on following those public health measures or those numbers will start to rise again.”

As of Wednesday, there were 820 Albertans in hospital, 137 of whom were in ICUs.

Hinshaw stressed that “our health system remains under significant strain.”

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Schools resumed in-person classes this week. Four schools are currently on alert and one is on outbreak status. There are six COVID-19 cases in schools in total, Hinshaw said.

“As we’re looking forward and considering what measures we might be able to ease at some point, the actions that Albertans take once those measures are eased, will determine our future.

“No matter what activities that Albertans engage in, they need to do so in a way that respects those public health guidelines.”

There have been 23 additional deaths reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours. Sixteen of those fatalities were connected to outbreaks at long-term care or supportive housing facilities.

A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Laurel Heights Retirement Residence in Edmonton Zone passed away, as did a man in his 70s linked to the outbreak at Edmonton General Care Centre in Edmonton Zone and a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Carewest Sarcee in Calgary Zone. All three included comorbidities.

A woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Rosedale Estates in Edmonton Zone died, along with a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Rosedale Estates in Edmonton Zone. Both included comorbidities.

At Agecare Skypointe in Calgary Zone, a woman in her 90s passed away, as did a woman in her 60s linked to the outbreak there. Both included comorbidities.

A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Agecare Sagewood in Calgary Zone died, as did a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Agecare Walden Heights in Calgary Zone. Both cases included comorbidities.

A woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at William J. Cadzow – Lac La Biche Healthcare Centre in North Zone died, along with a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Misericoridia Community Hospital in Edmonton Zone, a man in his 70s linked to the outbreak at Academy of Aging in Calgary Zone, a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Seasons Camrose in Central Zone, a woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre in Edmonton Zone, a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at St. Marguerite Manor in Calgary Zone, and a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Carewest George Boyack in Calgary Zone. All cases included comorbidities.
There was a man in his 80s from the Calgary Zone not linked to an outbreak who died. A man in his 40s from the Calgary Zone also died with no known comorbidities.

A man in his 70s in the Calgary Zone passed away. Comorbidities are unknown at this time. A man in his 80s in Edmonton Zone died, as did a woman in her 70s in Edmonton Zone, a woman in her 80s in Central Zone, and a man in his 80s in Edmonton Zone.

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