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Albertans who received 1st COVID-19 vaccine in April or earlier can book 2nd dose

Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday that Alberta was speeding up the rollout of second doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

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Initially, only people who received their first dose of vaccine in March or earlier — or those who severely immunocompromised — were able to book their second shot.

Now, anyone who received their first shot in April or earlier is eligible to book their second shot through AHS or participating pharmacies or doctors’ offices. That means 650,000 more Albertans are eligible to become fully immunized.

“This is great news,” the premier said. “Everyone will benefit from widespread immunity.”

The expanded eligibility for second doses comes four days ahead of schedule. June 14 was the initial booking start date for the April-or-earlier first dose group.

In recent days, the first-dose vaccination rate has stalled somewhat. Alberta Health Services has opened drop-in vaccination clinics and drive-through options for those who’ve yet to receive their first dose.

However, the uptake hasn’t been as high as officials were hoping and thousands of first-dose appointments have gone unfilled.

“If you haven’t got your first dose yet, please do,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday. “We need you to… Every dose matters.”

This past weekend’s walk-in clinic in northeast Calgary was equipped with 5,000 doses of vaccine, however, only about 2,000 were given out over the two days it was open.

AHS said 168 people dropped in at the Edmonton walk-in first-dose clinic on Wednesday.

Across the province, more than 3,800 vaccine appointments were unfilled Tuesday at AHS sites, according to the health authority.

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Kenney, Hinshaw and Health Minister Tyler Shandro urged all Albertans who haven’t booked their first vaccine yet to “please help us” and book right away.

“First dose demand is slowing,” Kenney said. “The full opening of our province is in the hands of Albertans.”

In order to trigger Stage 3 — which would remove most public health restrictions — 70 per cent of eligible Albertans must receive at least one dose of vaccine.

Shandro said there are 251,000 appointments booked in coming days.

“We’re not far from reaching the 70 per cent threshold,” he said.

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Alberta entered Stage 2 of its “Open For Summer” strategy on Thursday, which allows indoor dining (six people or less), indoor fitness, movie theatres and larger outdoor gatherings.

“We’re here because Albertans have done their part,” Kenney said.

The premier said, as of Thursday, there were 3,810 active COVID-19 cases in the province, a 40 per cent decrease from June 1.

Kenney said it is the fewest active cases since Oct. 23.

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He added Alberta’s R-value remains below 1 and the positivity rate has been under five per cent since June 2.

“Our numbers are low and dropping lower every single day.”

Stage 2 was tied to 60 per cent of eligible Albertans receiving at least one dose of vaccine and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 being under 500.

About 67.8 per cent of eligible Albertans over 12 have received at least one dose,” Kenney said, and roughly 16 per cent of eligible Albertans have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

“We, here in Alberta, have 16 per cent of our eligible population fully vaccinated with two doses,” Shandro said. “The rest of the country is at 11 per cent overall.”

Incentives for first doses

The province is seriously considering ways to encourage more people to get their first dose of vaccine, the premier said Thursday.

In addition to offering drive-through and drop-in immunization, Alberta is also looking at a lottery — something other regions have introduced to boost first-dose uptake.

“I’ve asked the department of health to come forward with possible incentives, including a lottery,” Kenney said.

“There’s a lot of creative incentives… We just want to make sure the cost of that would be justified by the uptake of vaccines.”

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Shandro will bring forward some ideas to the COVID-19 cabinet committee next Monday, Kenney said.

He explained the lottery option seems to encourage certain demographics — that showed low rates of first dose uptake — to get their first shot, especially younger men.

Kenney said the daily increase of first dose vaccinations has slowed to about 0.2-0.3 per cent.

“We’re at the point now where we really have to start shaking the trees.”

Hinshaw emphasized that everyone who’s received their first dose would be entered in any future lottery. She urged Albertans not to wait to be vaccinated.

Daily COVID-19 numbers

Alberta Health said Thursday 178 new cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the last 24 hours out of about 5,500 tests. That puts Alberta’s positivity rate at 3.3 per cent.

Alberta confirmed 138 cases involving variants of concern, Hinshaw said Thursday.

There were 306 people in hospital with the virus, including 81 in ICU.

Six additional deaths due to COVID-19 were reported.

“This is a reminder that we continue to see the impacts of third wave,” Hinshaw said.

“The sooner we can get everyone fully immunized the better.”

The six fatalities include a man in his 60s and a woman in her 90s from the Edmonton zone — neither of whom had known comorbidities, two men — one in his 40s (no known comorbidities) and one in his 70s (included comorbidities) — from the North zone, a woman in her 70s in the Calgary zone (with comorbidities) and a man in his 60s in the South zone, also with comorbidities.

Albertans who have received COVID-19 vaccinations outside the country or province are being asked to submit their records to Alberta Health Services.

The government is asking them to bring a copy of their immunization records to one of the 141 AHS public health clinics in Alberta to have their immunization record updated.

Push for more second doses

“It’s really critical that we get as many people in for one dose, if they haven’t had one, and two doses if they have had one,” said Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health.

“I would hate to think that there are still going to be people who could die of COVID when there’s vaccine appointments going vacant.

“I think going full steam on trying to get everyone immunized with two doses… gets us that much closer to normality, which is what everyone wants,” said Talbot, who’s the co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s COVID-19 committee.

Two doses of vaccine also offers much better protection against the Delta variant, he said.

“Even in the third wave when we were getting way more cases, the mortality rate didn’t go up.

“There’s pretty good evidence that even one dose of the vaccine is protective against hospitalization and ICU (admission). That may be true but it doesn’t change the fact that the new variant is capable of infecting two-thirds of the people who had a single dose and 100 per cent of the people who’ve had none,” he said.

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Talbot added that the province’s reopening plan, which he describes as “reckless,” is having the unintended consequence of signalling to Albertans that immunization isn’t important any more.

“That’s the message that really needs to be counteracted.”

“Until 70 per cent of the population has received two doses, it’s going to be very difficult to reopen in any normal fashion.”

Talbot and the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association have been urging the premier to adopt a more “moderate” reopening plan. His advice to Albertans is use common sense. Outdoor activities with friends and family tend to be relatively safe, but avoid crowded spaces indoors, keep distanced from others and wear a mask,” he said.

“We are this close to getting to a world in which COVID is something we don’t have to think about every day. Maybe we need to get a booster every year. This is just the last stretch,” Talbot said.

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“We’re not telling people to continue to self isolate in their homes.

“We’re saying get outside, do what you need for your physical, mental, emotional, social wellbeing but exercise your common sense when you go indoors.”

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