Alberta to begin mass immunization with 12+, Kenney says 'no tools left' to pull out of COVID-19 spike
EDMONTON -- Within a week, all Albertans aged 12 and older will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.
The province was the first in Canada to announce Wednesday morning it was lowering the age of eligibility to teenaged residents.
Albertans born in 1991 or earlier will become eligible Thursday, May 6.
Then, booking will open Monday, May 10, to Albertans born between 1992 and 2009.
Health Canada cleared children 12 and older for the Pfizer vaccine earlier Wednesday morning.
"This is a major milestone in our vaccine rollout, and it comes right when we need it most," Premier Jason Kenney said.
Alberta's opening up of age eligibility comes as the province tightens restrictions in an attempt to curb a fast-moving third wave of COVID-19 and variant infections. The premier announced during the Tuesday supper hour his province would move all schools online, close patio dining, limit outdoor gatherings to five people, and help law enforcement agencies work together better in addressing public health order repeat offenders.
He called the moves necessary to "prevent disaster from unfolding in our hospitals," and repeated the urgency on Wednesday.
According to the latest data, there are 671 Albertans in hospital with coronavirus, 150 of whom are in ICUs. In total, there are 226 Albertans in ICUs -- more than the system had room for before the pandemic. Alberta Health Services can increase the number of staffed ICU beds to 425, but not without reducing surgeries and other care services, which already have been reduced by 30 per cent in some health zones.
And, Alberta's active case count has been growing by an average of 1.8 per cent. If the trend were to continue, Alberta could see 30,000 active cases by the middle of May, and 40,000 active cases before June, according to government data.
"We have no tools left, no tools left to prevent a worst-case scenario in the health-care system apart from these additional measures that we've taken," Kenney told reporters.
"So if we can just suppress the current spike, stop the spike," he said, referencing his government's latest news conference theme, "the vaccines will take over. That is certainly our hope and our expectation."
He added: "The vaccine is our net now."
According to the premier and Health Minister Tyler Shandro, the province will be prepared to expand vaccine rollout so long as vaccine deliveries from the federal government arrive as scheduled.
'MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOUR'
Starting at 8 a.m. Thursday, appointments can be booked online or by calling 811.
"The overwhelming metaphor we are seeing for this is may the odds be ever in your favour, so apparently people are in a bit of a Hunger Games mood about this so prepare yourself accordingly," said Sarah Mackey, with Vax Hunter Alberta.
Vax Hunter Alberta suggests logging into the AHS website by 7:30 a.m. to secure your spot in the queue and wait until the website opens at 8 a.m.
"Book the first one you can get that you can actually go to, a time and place you can get to even if it's not your preference, book it quickly," said Mackey.
In the confirmation email you'll receive from AHS, Mackey says that there's an option to modify your appointment. But she says to wait a day to modify, because the website will be busy Thursday as other eligible Albertans try to book their appointments.
"Check in again over the weekend and see if they add appointments," said Mackey. "They sometimes redistribute which clinics have appointments."
Mackey says the queue will likely be the biggest to date during vaccine distribution, but not to be intimidated as it moves quite quickly.
"I have bought worse tickets in my life on Ticketmaster than I think this will be. It'll be really busy, stay calm," said Mackey.
You can also book at one of the 1,300 pharmacies across the province -- some take phone calls -- other allow you to book online or be placed on a wait list.
"Be patient, be kind, remember that there's plenty more coming if you don't get an appointment this week," said Mackey.
Vaccine hesitancy has been an issue in Alberta, but the province is hoping the variety of vaccines available will encourage people to book.
If you're unsure about the process, Vax Hunter Alberta has created a guide to help Albertans book a COVID vaccine.
Nearly 1.7 million Albertans had received at least one shot by Tuesday, including some three hundred thousand who were fully immunized with two doses. About one third of Alberta's eligible population has some degree of protection from COVID-19 because of immunization. Kenney said his government has seen infection rates drop in other jurisdictions when half of the public had been vaccinated.
With nearly 24,000 active cases, Alberta has the highest per capita infection rate in all of Canada and the United States. Of some 1,700 cases reported Tuesday, about half were variant strains.
Since COVID-19 was first detected in the province, 2,099 people have died with the disease.
Alberta also announced late Tuesday a woman in her 50s who had received the AstraZeneca shot died from vaccine-induced induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia. It is the third death linked to COVID-19 vaccine in Canada as of Wednesday.