EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province has begun giving second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine with priority for residents in long-term care homes.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw says adjustments are being made on the fly to make sure everyone who has received a first shot gets the booster in the recommended time frame.
Timelines have been put in flux because of delays in shipments from Pfizer-BioNTech, which produces one of two vaccines approved by Health Canada.
Hinshaw says health officials are working to get residents of long-term care and supportive living facilities their second doses within a month of the first shot because they are at high risk.
She says “everything possible” will be done to find second doses for others no later than six weeks after their first shot.
Alberta has given more than 95,000 doses to those considered a high priority, including care-home residents and front-line health workers.
“We are also looking within our available supplies to be able to provide the second dose to all others who have received their first dose within the maximum allowable window of that 42 days,” Hinshaw said Wednesday.
“We are needing to adjust plans.”
Alberta Health says missing the window does not mean the first dose will be ineffective.
“Evidence is still emerging on all the vaccines,” said department spokesman Tom McMillan in a statement.
“There is evidence that the immune response begins to develop within two weeks of the first dose and continues to develop after that. But it is not known how long any protection from a single dose lasts.”
McMillan said the expectation remains that Alberta will be able to deliver the second dose within the window.
But if not, current recipients “would not need to begin the series over. They would simply receive the second dose as soon as available,” he said.
Premier Jason Kenney said earlier this week that no new first doses would be offered for the time being.
Hinshaw reported 669 new COVID cases on Wednesday, with 10,565 active cases. Some 744 people were in hospital, 124 of them in intensive care.
There were 21 more deaths for a total of 1,484.
Alberta first began delivering doses in mid-December from two suppliers, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Canada was to get more than 417,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week and next, but is now to receive just over 171,000 this week and nothing next week. Both vaccines require two doses several weeks apart for full effectiveness.
The delay has also forced the province to put off implementing its next phase of priority vaccinations: Indigenous seniors over 65 and other seniors 75 and older.
Alberta remains under 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, including casinos and movie theatres, remain shuttered.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press