Alberta is making COVID-19 vaccine booster shots available to more people, based on evidence that immunity levels and protection may decline sooner in certain groups.
Starting Monday, third doses of vaccine will be available to four distinct groups, including all Albertans aged 70 and older and all First Nations, Métis and Inuit people aged 18 and older.
"Vaccines continue to be our most effective tool against the virus," Health Minister Jason Copping told a news conference Wednesday. "Today's announcement of third-dose boosters is an important next step in our vaccination program."
Copping said boosters are recommended for First Nations, Métis and Inuit adults because Indigenous people have been more severely affected by the virus that causes COVID-19, "in part due to underlying health conditions."
Other groups becoming eligible next week include front-line health-care workers who received their first two doses less than eight weeks apart, and Albertans who received either two doses of AstraZeneca or one of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while abroad.
In all four groups, eligibility for booster shots begins six months after receiving the most recent dose.
Alberta's decision is based on evidence and recent recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
Copping said emerging data suggests that protection from viral vector vaccines like Oxford-AstraZeneca's and Johnson & Johnson's decreases more quickly than protection from mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech's and Moderna's.
'Getting past the fourth wave'
Third-dose booster shots have been available since Sept. 1 to certain groups, including Alberta seniors living in congregate care and people with certain immuno-compromising conditions.
"Today marks another milestone in our ongoing fight against COVID-19 in Alberta," Copping said.
"We're getting past the fourth wave with cases and hospital admissions dropping for five straight weeks. We're going the right way but we need to stay the course and prepare for the future."
Premier Jason Kenney told the news conference there is no evidence or scientific advice "that the general population needs booster doses now."
Beginning Monday, eligible people can book appointments for third doses online with Alberta Health Services and participating pharmacies by using the Alberta vaccine booking system. Albertans can also call 811, participating pharmacies or participating physicians' offices.
People aged 18 and older who live on a First Nations reserve will be able to access third doses through public health clinics or nursing stations on-reserve.
14 more deaths
Alberta reported 487 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 14 more deaths.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said 10,300 tests were completed in the previous 24 hours, with a positivity rate of 4.8 per cent.
There are currently 697 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 155 in intensive care.
Alberta currently has 6,693 active cases of COVID-19.
Here is how active cases break down by region:
Calgary zone: 1,815.
Edmonton zone: 1,529.
North zone: 1,452.
Central zone: 1,186.
South zone: 710.