Dr. Deena Hinshaw to update Alberta’s COVID-19 situation Wednesday

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is set to deliver an update on the province’s COVID-19 cases and vaccinations on Wednesday — the same day appointment bookings opened for AstraZeneca immunizations for those eligible.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw will give her update at 3:30 p.m., which will be live-streamed in this post.

Read more: All eyes on Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking system Wednesday for AstraZeneca

On Wednesday morning, Albertans born in 1957 as well as First Nations, Metis and Inuit people born in 1972 were eligible to book appointments to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The third vaccine to be approved for use in Canada is being made available to Albertans who are aged 50 to 64, as well as First Nations, Metis and Inuit people who are in the 35 to 49 age range, and don’t have a severe chronic illness. About 400,000 people are in those age groups, according to the province.

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Alberta’s online booking portal, as well as 811 booking option, were overwhelmed when bookings for seniors aged 75 and older opened.

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According to Alberta Health Services, the online portal’s capacity was increased on March 3, and more staff were hired to support 811.

Within the first hour of the booking system opening Wednesday morning, AHS said about 5,000 Albertans had booked appointments to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. By 12:40 p.m., 10,000 appointments had been secured. The first appointments start Thursday.

AHS said while there was an initial rush first thing, that subsided rather quickly and there was no wait to book appointments at around 9:30 a.m.

Read more: Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking site experiences ‘very high volumes’ as appointments open to those 75 and older

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As of Tuesday, Alberta had 4,470 active cases of COVID-19, with 255 new infections reported in the previous 24 hours.

A total of 263 Albertans were being treated in hospitals, with 37 of them in intensive care units.

Alberta labs have processed 3,481,853 tests on 1,840,457 people.

16-week gap between shots

Starting Wednesday, appointments for first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses in Alberta will be spaced up to 16 weeks apart, but one infectious diseases researcher said that may not always be the case.

The change in timing comes after a recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which cited evidence showing there was some protection against severe outcomes after the first dose.

Read more: Provinces, territories can wait 4 months to administer 2nd COVID-19 shot, NACI says

Up until Wednesday, doses were being spaced out up to six weeks in Alberta, which is already more than the two- and three-week recommendations of manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna.
However, it is not clear how long the province may follow the NACI recommendation of up to 16 weeks.

“It’s certainly possible that the door has been left open to be able to revert back to the timelines that were on the box, on the label, and that we have more data for,” said Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Alberta.

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“That said, from the standpoint of getting as many people as quickly as possible, it does make sense to hold off on those first doses initially, based on the data that has emerged. But I think as supply ramps up and starts to catch up with demand, I think certainly there could be a situation where that recommendation is relaxed.”

Read more: Alberta considers further extending time between doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Schwartz said it may be possible to see large windows where people can select their date for a follow-up appointment.

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