Calgary Herald

Vaccine rollout off to sluggish start

Province only 20% of way to goal of 29,000 doses given by Dec. 31

- BILL KAUFMANN

Alarm and frustratio­n are building over what some say is the slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns in Alberta.

Two weeks ago, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said 29,000 doses of vaccine would be administer­ed to front-line health-care workers and long-term care residents by the end of the year.

But on Monday, only 6,016 Albertans had received the vaccine, said Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who noted the shots weren't provided Christmas Day and won't be on New Year's Day.

A week ago, Shandro said the province had received more than 29,000 Pfizer-biontech doses since Dec. 14 and described their rollout as “off to a strong start.”

But some in the medical community say they're troubled by the speed of those vaccinatio­ns, with only about 20 per cent of the yearend goal reached so far.

Calgary and Edmonton are to each receive 6,825 of those doses, Premier Jason Kenney said last week.

Physicians across the country say when it comes to vaccinatio­ns, time is of the essence in reducing the number of cases, hospitaliz­ations and deaths.

In a tweet, Tom Sampson, who recently stepped down as head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, echoed those concerns.

“Vaccine in storage is a shame — mass vaccinatio­n strategy required,” he said.

“No stock should sit in the community for more than 24 hours. Come on folks, you have front-line providers sweating it out to care for people.”

Hours later on Tuesday, Kenney said those 29,000 inoculatio­ns won't happen until into the new year, adding Alberta Health Services held back half of the doses received to better time them with the second dose each recipient needs of the Pfizer-biontech product.

But that approach has now been ditched in favour of delivering all the available vaccine as soon as possible, he said.

“My understand­ing is we're scheduled to do about 4,000 vaccinatio­ns in the next two or three days … we hope to start catching up toward that (29,000) goal,” said Kenney.

He also said Pfizer has granted more flexibilit­y in delivering the vaccine to inoculatio­n centres, hastening the pace of vaccinatio­ns.

The first of the vaccines were administer­ed Dec. 16 and as of the end of Tuesday the province said more than 7,000 vaccinatio­ns should be completed.

On Monday, Hinshaw said those vaccinatio­ns had been paused on Christmas Day and will be again New Year's Day.

But on Tuesday, Kenney said the decision has been made to provide vaccinatio­ns without interrupti­on in the coming days.

“Every day we waste is lives lost … I hope we'll be working as close to around the clock as possible,” said the premier.

He also announced the province is receiving 16,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is easier to distribute — especially in re

They will immediatel­y begin immunizing residents of long-term care and designated supportedl­iving facilities.

mote areas — than the Pfizer-biontech version, which requires deep freezing.

“They will immediatel­y begin immunizing residents of longterm care and designated supported-living facilities,” he said.

“This is exciting news for staff, residents and families of these facilities who have been on the front lines of our battle with COVID-19 since the spring and have experience­d untold pain and loss.”

Health-care officials in Ontario have come under fire for suspending vaccinatio­ns on Christmas and Boxing Day, and retired general Rick Hillier, who's heading up that province's vaccinatio­n efforts, has called that decision wrong and said the process would proceed through the rest of the holidays.

The seemingly slower pace of the vaccine rollout is no surprise over the holiday season given fewer people are available to distribute and administer the medicine, said United Nurses of Alberta president Heather Smith.

“Obviously, it'd be nice to get it out as quickly as possible,” she said.

Nurses, she said, are under immense stress over both the effect of the pandemic and political developmen­ts over the past year.

“There's a lot of fear and discourage­ment over how things have evolved over 2020, there's exhaustion,” said Smith.

“The sooner we get vaccinated, the better people will feel by having a light at the end of the tunnel … it's about reducing the number of exposures and the incredible pressures on the system.”

Even so, Smith said she's confident AHS is doing all it can to distribute the vaccine.

COVID-19 hospitaliz­ations continue to increase in Alberta, with at least 97 more patients being admitted since Dec. 22, for a total of 890, with 153 of those in ICU.

There were also 879 new infections reported Tuesday, with a test positivity rate of 7.7 per cent.

The pace of deaths has also increased rapidly over the past month, with the province exceeding 1,000 fatalities over the weekend for a total of 1,028 after another 26 deaths were announced Tuesday.

On Nov. 23, the virus's death toll in the province stood at 500.

Kenney said both types of vaccines will continue to target health-care workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities as well as residents, followed by all people aged 75 and older and First Nations population­s.

Phase 2 of the vaccinatio­n program is expected to commence in April, though details have yet to be worked out, said provincial officials.

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