EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says residents in long-term care and supportive living facilities will remain the priority as the province grapples with a looming slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine supply.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw says health officials may also have to rebook vaccination appointments for those getting the required second dose.
Hinshaw made the announcement just hours after the federal government said there will be no shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week and reduced shipments for about three weeks after that.
The slowdown is due to Pfizer retrofitting its Belgium-based plant in order to ramp up production down the road.
Hinshaw says Alberta has 456 new cases of COVID-19, with 740 patients in hospital.
There are 119 patients in intensive care and 1,463 people have died.
“This is frustrating, but the factory issues in Belgium are out of our control," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a release Tuesday.
"We will continue to use what we have to protect as many Albertans as possible. And we will continue to inform Albertans of any changes to our vaccination plans.”
Alberta recently finished giving first doses of vaccine to all residents in its 357 long-term care and supportive living facilities.
“These are absolutely the highest-risk locations, and people who live in these facilities are the most vulnerable to severe outcomes,” Hinshaw told a virtual news conference.
“Two-thirds of all our (COVID-19) deaths have been in long-term care and supportive living facilities.”
Alberta has given 90,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to those in the high priority cohort: those in the care homes and front-line health-care workers.
Canada was to get more than 417,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week and next, but will now get just over 171,000 this week and nothing the following week. Both vaccines require two doses weeks apart for full effectiveness.
The delay has also forced the province to put off implementing the next phase of priority cases: Indigenous seniors over 65 and other seniors 75 and older.
Alberta remains under strict lockdown measures, which include a ban on indoor gatherings. Bars, restaurants and lounges can offer takeout or pickup service only. Retailers are limited to 15 per cent customer capacity, while entertainment venues like casinos and movie theatres remain shuttered.
The province relaxed some measure slightly on Monday. Outdoor gatherings can have 10 people maximum. Personal care services, like hair salons, manicure and pedicure salons and tattoo shops, can open by appointment only.
Hinshaw said it’s not clear when further restrictions can be lifted.
“Our health system is still under severe strain,” she said.
“This continues to impact our ability to deliver care, not only for COVID-19 but all the other health needs Albertans have.”
There were 11,096 active COVID cases Tuesday, about half the number recorded at its peak in mid-December.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press