Alberta vaccine rollout largely consistent with federal plan: pandemic committee co-chair

A health-care worker prepares to administer a dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Toronto on Dec. 14, 2020. Photo by Carlos Osorio/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

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It’s more important to get as many Albertans vaccinated against COVID-19 as quickly as possible than to worry excessively about priority lists, said the co-chair of a local medical advisory committee Saturday.

Released Friday, Alberta’s priority list for COVID-19 vaccinations already has its detractors. But Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s pandemic committee, said it largely falls in line with federal recommendations and with more vaccines potentially being approved soon, the list of those getting a jab early may get longer.

“There’s no question, the sooner that we get as many Albertans as possible vaccinated the sooner that the cloud will be gone and then we can start to move back towards a more normal existence,” Gibney said Saturday.

On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney announced the province’s long-awaited phased plan, saying all Albertans born in 1946 or earlier will be able to book vaccine appointments starting this Wednesday.

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The next phase, which is expected to start in April, will begin with Albertans aged 65 to 74, no matter where they live and First Nations, Inuit and Métis people aged 50 to 64, on and off reserve or Métis settlements. Then it will move to a group that includes anyone with yet undefined high-risk underlying health conditions.

Gibney said starting Phase 2 with older Albertans makes sense because they are more at risk from the virus. As for which pre-existing conditions will be included as “high-risk,” Gibney suggests anyone with diabetes and chronic lung disease as well as those who are immunocompromised will likely qualify.

Waiting for more vaccines

Gibney thinks Health Canada will approve a third vaccine from AstraZeneca in the next month or two. There are some concerns about using that vaccine on older seniors but it is effective in people younger than 65, he said.

If the AstraZeneca vaccine is approved, and logistics are in place to vaccinate another 100,000 people a week, Alberta could quickly add more categories of people to the list, he said.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Alberta could handle 180,000 doses a week if they were available using pharmacies, family doctors and public health staff. Officials will add more clinics if a surge of vaccines arrive.

Next week Alberta is expected to get roughly 69,000 doses.

ATA says government ‘failed to uphold’ obligation

Not everyone is pleased. The Alberta Teachers’ Association said the government is not following a recommendation of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) that suggests teachers get vaccinated sooner.

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The NACI guide specifically suggests frontline essential workers who cannot work virtually, including teachers in the classroom, grocery store staff and transportation workers, be vaccinated ahead of people younger than 60 who have pre-existing conditions.

“Teachers, other school employees and, frankly, every frontline worker in the province have been working diligently to support the lives and livelihoods of Albertans,” ATA president Jason Schilling said in a statement.

“The Government of Alberta has an obligation to protect frontline workers and today they failed to uphold that obligation.”

Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said the province’s plan is similar to plans in British Columbia and Quebec and is following the NACI recommendation to focus on those most at risk of severe outcomes.

The NACI says sequencing in each stage may differ between jurisdictions depending on local COVID-19 epidemiology and logistics.

McMillan said the decision comes down to the province’s limited supply of vaccines. “We recognize that teachers and many, many others would benefit from receiving the vaccine, and we want to offer it to them as soon as possible.”

Gibney said the government should use local data to make impartial decisions about who is most at risk and which additional professions take priority. That could come from Alberta Health, professional organizations or even the workers’ compensation board.

“Think that whatever is done has to be done in a data-based way. Otherwise, it’s just going to be such a fight.”

ajoannou@postmedia.com

twitter.com/ashleyjoannou

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