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Alberta extends time between vaccine doses; means more people to get shot sooner

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EDMONTON — Alberta is following guidance from a national vaccine advisory panel and increasing the time between COVID-19 doses.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, says the greater lag time will allow more Albertans to be effectively vaccinated sooner.

She said the plan is for Alberta to match British Columbia, which announced Monday it will follow the four-month window and get a first dose to everyone who wants one by July.

“This change will significantly increase how quickly we can offer Albertans the protection of their first dose,” Hinshaw said Wednesday.

“We can all take heart that by getting more first doses to Albertans more quickly, the change I am announcing today brings the light at the end of the tunnel nearer.”

Earlier Wednesday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended first and second doses can be to up to four months apart if supplies are limited.

The decision was made based on emerging studies in places including Quebec, the United Kingdom and Israel that show even one dose of vaccine can be about 70 to 80 per cent effective.

When vaccines were first available late last year, manufacturers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna recommended two shots spaced three to six weeks apart.

Alberta is now into its second round of priority vaccinations. The 29,000 highest-risk Albertans, those in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, have been vaccinated twice. Seniors over 75 and First Nations people 65 and older are among those now allowed to book their shots.

Hinshaw said second dose appointments will go ahead for those who have already booked them, and those who want to book a second shot within the previous six-week window will be able to up to March 10.

Starting then, those who book a first vaccine dose will have the second one delayed by as much as four months.

Newfoundland and Labrador also announced an extension to four months. Manitoba has said it will bring in a delay. 

Ontario said it was weighing a similar move and seeking advice from the federal government.

The change comes as more vaccine doses are on the way.

Along with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the federal government has approved a third vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca.

Hinshaw said Alberta expects to soon receive shipments of that vaccine as early as next week.

Alberta has so far administered 255,000 vaccinations, with 89,000 people getting the full two doses.

Hinshaw reported 402 new cases Wednesday. There were 251 people in hospital, 48 of whom were in intensive care. Twelve more people died, bringing that total in the province to 1,902. 

Case numbers and hospitalizations are a small fraction of what they were at the height of the second wave of COVID-19 in December.

The economy remains under public-health restrictions, which include no indoor gatherings and limited capacities for retailers and restaurants.

Premier Jason Kenney announced earlier this week a delay in loosening some rules, given unknowns, such as variant strains of the virus.

The strains can spread much faster than the original one, with the potential to quickly overwhelm the health system.

Alberta has detected 500 variant cases, and Hinshaw announced Wednesday the first variant case at a continuing-care home.

Churchill Manor, in Edmonton, has 27 staff and residents who have tested positive, with 19 of them positive for the variant.

“Local public-health teams and the operator are taking this outbreak extremely seriously and (are) working closely together to limit spread and protect everyone involved,” said Hinshaw.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press