Alberta is pushing pause on further doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine following further reports from Europe of a link between receiving the vaccine and blood clots.
The vaccine will continue to be available to Albertans ages 55+, but will no longer be offered to Albertans below the age of 55.
“I want to assure you that this temporary pause is the result of our robust safety monitoring working the way that it should,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“I also want to reiterate that there have been no safety signals related to the other vaccines we’re using in the province. The AstraZeneca vaccine remains a good choice for those who are at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, who would otherwise have to wait several months to access a vaccine,” said Hinshaw.
Asked to explain why it is that the AstraZeneca vaccine will continue to be available to those over the age of 55, Hinshaw said “the benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh the small potential risks in groups more likely to have severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection, such as those age 55 and older.”
She noted the AstraZeneca vaccine is very effective at preventing severe outcomes from COVID-19 and recommendations may change in the future as further information and data becomes available.
Province opens vaccinations for 2B tomorrow
Albertans in Group 2B will be eligible to start receiving their vaccines from pharmacies beginning tomorrow, Mar. 30.
According to Hinshaw, almost 1 million people are part of Group 2B which includes people ages 16-64 with underlying health conditions. Fourteen groups of conditions make people eligible for the vaccine including cancer; heart, kidney, liver and lung diseases except for mild or well controlled asthma; diabetes; pregnancy; severe mental illness; severe obesity, meaning a body mass index greater than 40 kg/m2; and transplant recipients.
As with earlier phases of the vaccine roll-out, Group 2B will become eligible according to birth year as vaccines arrive.
“We are not requiring a doctor’s note or other proof of one of these conditions to get high risk individuals vaccinated as soon, and as efficiently as possible. I know many, many Albertans will benefit from vaccination, including those with other medical conditions. But I urge people to wait their turn and ensure those at the highest risk receive protection first,” said Hinshaw.
Three variant cases linked to Cold Lake High School
There are active cases in communities across the Lakeland. According to the Alberta Geospatial COVID-19 map there is one active case in Lac La Biche, 19 in Smoky Lake, 43 in St. Paul, 26 in Bonnyville, 17 in Cold Lake, seven in Vermilion, and zero in Two Hills.
Three of the cases in Cold Lake are linked to Cold Lake High School according to Nicole Garner, communications officer with Northern Lights Public School System. She said the division was notified by AHS that all three cases were variants. The first case at the school was reported on Mar. 19.
“We haven’t had any additional ones reported since those ones initially, but we are still within the quarantine period. So there’s students and staff that were identified as close contacts are in quarantine until Friday–Thursday and Friday, depending on which one they’re close contacts of. So far, again, no additional cases, and also no evidence of in-school transmission with those as well,” said Garner.
She said parents and staff at the school have been doing an excellent job of keeping kids home and staying home when they are sick as well as when they have been asked to quarantine by AHS.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have fairly low numbers of cases in our school and no evidence of in-school transmission to this point. But we need everyone to remain vigilant, including over the upcoming spring break. The other weather’s getting–not today– but the weather is getting warmer. And we’re all wanting to get out and see people and socialize. But we really want to make sure that we’re able to finish off the school year strongly. And that’s really going to depend on everyone’s continued compliance with all of the rules and restrictions that have been put in place,” said Garner.
Across the province of Alberta, variant cases now make up 27.2 per cent of active cases. The vast majority of the variant cases, including all 142 in the North Zone are the B.1.1.7 UK variant.
Province-wide the R-value, or number of people infected by each case of COVID-19, remains above 1, averaging at 1.09 provincewide and 1.04 outside of Edmonton and Calgary.
“We know that we have crossed over that threshold of one and we have a reproductive number of higher than one and we have had so for several weeks across the province,” said Hinshaw.
She said what is concerning is that the variant cases have an R-value of 1.35 “if we are wanting to make sure that we’re part of the solution and protecting our communities, we need to be thinking about our actions every day in advance of when we make those decisions.”
The R-value has been one of the factors, along with case counts and hospitalizations which the province is using to determine if and when restrictions can be further eased. Hinshaw declined to comment on the possibility of re-introducing restrictions.
With files from Michael Menzies.