EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta expects to start getting COVID-19 vaccines in the first week of January, and high-risk patients and health workers will get them first.
Kenney says the province has struck an inter-departmental team to roll out the vaccines from 30 different locations.
“Alberta is well prepared to receive, distribute and administer a vaccine as soon as doses arrive,” Kenney told reporters Wednesday.
“This is evidence that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we can see this critical juncture when we will get past the terrible damage that COVID-19 has caused for our society.”
Alberta continues to lead Canada in per-capita rates of COVID-19, with 1,685 new cases announced Wednesday for a total active count of 17,144 infections.
There are 504 people in hospital, with 97 of them in intensive care. There were also 10 more deaths. In total, 561 Albertans have died from the virus.
The health system is working to free up more ICU beds and, in an unusual step, COVID-19 patients are being double-bunked rather than being kept in isolation at Edmonton’s University of Alberta Hospital.
Kenney said the vaccine group will be headed by senior civil servant Paul Wynnyk to plan the rollout.
“We have been assured by the federal government that shipments will begin to arrive by Jan. 4 and continue to arrive in waves throughout the early part of next year,” said Kenney.
The doses are to be distributed at 30 depots across the province. Kenney said the Moderna one needs to be kept cold and the Pfizer version needs to be kept at ultra-low temperatures, so special freezers and transports are being ordered.
Both vaccines, he said, need to be administered in two doses three to six weeks apart.
Officials expect to vaccinate 435,000 Albertans, or about 10 per cent of the population, in the first few months of 2021, with a focus on long-term and other care residents as well as health-care workers.
The second phase would run in late spring and aim to have one-third of the rest of the population immunized. Wynnyk’s team would determine the priority recipients in this phase.
The final phase, when the rest of Albertans get vaccinated, is pegged to begin next summer.
“That means it will be months before vaccine is available to the general population,” said Kenney.
“This is the unfortunate reality.
“Obviously the risk of hospitalizations and COVID-19 fatalities will decline significantly once we’re able to vaccinate the most vulnerable.
“But let’s be clear: all of us will have to continue following public-health guidelines even after the first wave of vaccinations have occurred.”
Albertans are currently banned from having extended gatherings in homes beyond those who live under the same roof. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people.
There is also a range of health restrictions for everything from places of worship to schools, businesses, retailers, bars and restaurants aimed at keeping as much of the economy open as possible while bending the curve on the pandemic.
Critics, including the Opposition NDP and some physicians and infectious disease specialists, say skyrocketing case numbers show the restrictions are not enough and the long-term health of both people and the economy is at risk.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro confirmed media reports that the province has asked the Canadian Red Cross and the federal government for field hospitals to help with the case surge.
Shandro said the request is part of long-term and prudent contingency planning.
“This (tent scenario) is not something that's in our current plans to increase our acute-care bed capacity,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press