Alberta aims to offer vaccine to those with chronic conditions starting in April

·3 min read

CALGARY — Alberta aims to start offering COVID-19 vaccines to people with some underlying health conditions starting in April, followed by people who live and work in certain high-risk settings.

The province's chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, detailed the province's next two rollout phases on Monday as she reported 364 new cases and three more deaths.

Phase 2B will include people without a functioning spleen, as well as those who have undergone cancer treatment in the past year, have severe mental illness or substance use disorder, or are pregnant. Those with certain lung, kidney, liver and heart diseases are also among those who qualify in this phase, which represents about 660,000 people.

"I know many Albertans have been anxiously waiting to see if their condition will be eligible. I appreciate their patience and recognize that many, many people will benefit from this vaccine," Hinshaw told reporters.

"Every single Albertan is deserving of it. However, we have limited supply and so we'll once again be focusing on those most at risk of severe outcomes."

Hinshaw said Phase 2B will operate on the honour system and a doctor's note will not be necessary.

Phase 2C covers some 400,000 people who live or work in congregate settings at risk for large outbreaks like jails, homeless shelters, meat plants and group homes, as well as various health-care workers who were not previously eligible.

Earlier Monday, Alberta Health Services said a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination site is to open at a convention centre in downtown Calgary next month.

The site — a partnership between the health agency, the City of Calgary and the Calgary Telus Convention Centre — will have about 100 vaccination stations once it's running in early April.

That could expand to 120 stations, depending on vaccine availability. It will operate between eight and 16 hours a day, seven days a week, also contingent on supply.

Vaccine appointment bookings for the facility are to open later this month.

Early in the pandemic, the convention centre served as an overflow homeless shelter.

On Sunday, Alberta Health Services said more than 53,000 eligible Albertans had booked an appointment to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not being offered to anyone over 65 or with chronic health conditions.

That meant there were fewer than 5,000 doses left from the province's initial allotment, although more supplies are coming.

Online bookings for that vaccine have closed, but all Albertans born between 1957 and 1961 and Indigenous people born between 1972 and 1976 can still call the 811 Health Link line for a spot.

Also on Monday, Alberta began offering two other approved vaccines to seniors younger than 75.

All Albertans born in 1947 and Indigenous people born in 1962 are able to book through Alberta Health Services. More appointments will be offered by birth year as the week progresses.

Pharmacies have begun offering appointments to all Albertans born in 1956 and earlier, and Indigenous people born in 1971 or earlier.

There are currently 255 COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals, including 42 in intensive care.

The test positivity rate Monday was 5.5 per cent and the R value — a measure of the average number of infections each case causes — was 1.07 provincewide, Hinshaw said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2021.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press