AHS engages northern Albertans in COVID conversation

·3 min read

Alberta Health Services held a virtual community conversation last week to give an update on COVID-19 in the North Zone.

Kristin Klein, AHS North Zone medical officer of health, addressed matters top of mind for many northern Albertans, including vaccinations and COVID variants.

One hundred and ninety-one people across northern Alberta participated via Zoom, said Nicole Merrifield, AHS community engagement director.

During the event Klein said “there have been a lot of questions” about vaccines.

Klein said a recipient can’t get the virus from the vaccine, nor would the virus be detected if a person gets a PCR test after being immunized.

“The (vaccine) doesn’t include COVID virus itself, so it can’t give you COVID,” she said.

“There’s a very small chance of an allergic reaction, (but) it’s less common than allergies to peanuts.”

The four vaccines approved in Canada are AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

All are given in two shots except the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires one.

Concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine have recently been raised after reports of blood clots in Europe, but prime minister Justin Trudeau said none of Canada’s supply came from that batch.*

In April vaccines will be made available to people with chronic conditions (including chronic heart disease, diabetes, a cancer diagnosis in the past year) between 18 and 64, pregnant women and congregate-living facility residents and staff; by the summer they will be available to the general public, Klein said.

“We’re hoping everyone who has an opportunity to be immunized chooses to by the end of June,” she said.

Participants asked if they should wait to get the vaccine if they’ve already had COVID.

“You don’t have to wait … as long as you’ve recovered from your illness and you’re feeling well enough to be immunized,” Klein said.

Donna Matier, AHS North Zone West public health director, said as immunizations are ramped up, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray will have the largest immunization sites in the North Zone, able to reach up to 1,200 people per day.

AHS is seeking large locations for this purpose, Matier said.

Klein also addressed the U.K. and South African variants.

“It’s normal for viruses to change over time,” she said.

“There’s some particular variations of the virus that are of concern because they’re thought to be more contagious.

“There’s some concern about what the impact will be if they become our predominant strain in Alberta and in Canada.”

She said the variants becoming predominant would likely result in an “uptick” in illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.

Klein said Communicable Disease Control (CDC) labs are testing for the variants.

The CDC team is recommending people exposed to variants are tested twice, she said.

“The same (protection) measures you use for other kinds of COVID also work for (variants),” she said.

“Washing your hands, staying home when sick, wearing a mask and practising physical distancing are important.”

Facilitator Carolyn Paradis said a common question was whether someone can get COVID twice.

Klein said a person wouldn’t expect to contract COVID-19 a second time within a 90-day period, but there isn’t enough evidence to determine how long natural immunity to the virus lasts.

A related question was whether a person who had one strain is at risk of getting a variant.

“You can be infected more than once if it’s a different enough strain from what you’ve had before,” Klein said.

“But there’s not enough evidence to know at this point how likely that is and how long you will be protected.”

*As reported by CBC News

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News