EDMONTON — Albertans were voting with their feet and arms Tuesday as they lined up and signed up to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
The government's decision to lower the age eligibility for the vaccine to 40 resulted in thousands of bookings and big lineups on the first day.
“Uptake for the AstraZeneca vaccine has been significantly higher this morning,” Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson said in a statement.
“More than 27,000 Albertans have booked an appointment.
“This includes approximately 6,500 booked appointments in Edmonton zone and 15,000 booked appointments in Calgary zone.”
Williamson said the uptake in one morning exceeded all of last week.
In Edmonton, up to a 100 people stood in line at lunchtime outside the Expo Centre mass vaccination clinic. Thirty cars were waiting to enter the grounds.
Jody Dewaal, 52, found out Monday she was finally eligible to get vaccinated and decided to head to the Expo Centre the next day.
“It’s about time,” Dewaal said.
“We’ve been waiting. I have senior parents and I have a child who has asthma, so we just like to have some kind of protection.”
Alberta has joined Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia in offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone 40 and older. Saskatchewan announced Tuesday it was doing the same. Quebec said it was lowering the age to 45.
The shot had been limited to those over 55. But Alberta said it lowered the age based on new health data and because thousands of doses were being left unused.
Vaccine hesitancy has been an issue among the older age group following reports globally of rare blood clots developing in some who received the AstraZeneca product. One Albertan has been affected, has been treated and is recovering at home.
Both Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have stressed the blood clots are extremely rare and have urged Albertans to take AstraZeneca.
Both posted pictures of themselves on social media Tuesday getting the vaccine.
AstraZeneca is one of multiple vaccines available but the only one open to the 40-plus cohort.
Alberta Health said about 170,000 doses were available as of Sunday and appointments would last as long as the supply does.
Lowering the age eligibility means 575,000 more Albertans have a chance to be vaccinated — for a total of 2.3 million.
Premier Jason Kenney has said the situation has become a race between the spread of COVID-19 variants and getting a critical mass of Albertans vaccinated.
The variants, now the dominant strain in Alberta, are far more contagious and have sent case rates and hospitalizations spiking in recent weeks.
Alberta has more than 18,000 active cases, with well over a thousand new cases every day for the last two weeks.
Also Tuesday, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley urged Kenney and his United Conservative government to work with her to fast- track legislation to allow people to get three hours off with pay if necessary to get vaccinated.
Kenney was receptive and said he would get back to Notley on Wednesday after consulting with officials.
“With or without legislation we would implore employers to do the right thing (and) ensure that their employees have every opportunity to get vaccinated,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2021
— With files from Fakiha Baig in Edmonton
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press