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Editorial: Vaccines vs. variants

It feels like there is an ongoing race in Alberta between the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the virus’ variants of concern, and the winner of this race will determine the severity of a third wave of the pandemic.

It feels like there is an ongoing race in Alberta between the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the virus’ variants of concern, with the winner of this race determining the severity of a third wave of the pandemic.

Alberta’s health minister announced earlier this week that, despite the below-300-patient threshold for hospitalizations being met, the Province would not be easing any public health restrictions at this time.

While this is the right call to quell an ongoing rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the government’s decision will certainly frustrate – or even outrage – many Albertan business owners who were counting on being able to open this week, after months of forced restrictions.

Alberta health officials have stated variants of concern are the main reason for the recent climb in cases. The numbers are certainly a cause for apprehension ­– active cases in Alberta have risen from the mid-4,000s in early March to above 6,000 as of press time, while hospitalizations have gone from the mid-250s to above 290 in the same timeframe. The provincial government is anticipating COVID-related hospitalizations to creep above 300 this week.

Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw has warned these variants are more contagious and faster-spreading than the “original” strain of COVID-19. Alberta’s number of variant cases climbed above 2,000 this week, and variants accounted for 21 per cent of our province’s active cases as of March 22.

On the other side of this race is the Province’s vaccination rollout. As of press time, more than half a million doses of critical COVID-19 vaccine had been administered across Alberta. While the number of people who are fully vaccinated with two doses is still below 100,000, the recent ramping up of distribution sites bodes well for Alberta's ability to offer a first dose to anyone who wants one before July.

The race will continue in the coming weeks. Vaccines versus variants. Let’s hope the former comes out on top.