EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province missed its initial COVID-19 vaccination goal, but it is working as close to around the clock as possible to catch up.
The province had planned to give 29,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of the year, but on Tuesday it said it had given shots to about 7,000 health workers.
Kenney said Alberta Health Services, the front-line operational arm of Alberta Health, was holding back half of its vaccine shipments to ensure those who received a first dose would get a required second shot.
But his COVID-19 cabinet committee has now directed health services to follow what some other provinces are doing and administer all doses as soon as possible.
"We hope to start catching up towards that goal," Kenney told a news briefing.
"We expect the pace to pick up significantly."
He said immunizations were paused on Christmas Day as it was difficult to get vaccine clinic staff, and community partners in charge of vaccine delivery also had the day off. Vaccinations were not scheduled as well for New Year's Day, but that has changed.
Vaccinations will take place every day "as close to around the clock as possible," the premier said.
"Every day that we waste is ultimately going to represent lives lost and we should be using every available working hour to administer vaccines."
Alberta reported 879 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 26 additional deaths, bringing the province's death toll to 1,028. There were 890 people in hospital with the virus, and 153 of them were in intensive care.
Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said the United Conservative government is failing in its pandemic response while blaming Alberta Health Services.
He pointed out that Health Minister Tyler Shandro said two weeks ago that no vaccine doses would be withheld.
“The premier promised 29,000 COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of 2020. Currently, he hasn’t reached a quarter of that target and there are just two days left," Shepherd said in a release.
"There are widespread reports of vaccination sitting in storage waiting to be administered and mass confusion among front-line workers about when they will be vaccinated."
Alberta also announced Tuesday that 16,900 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine had arrived in the province.
The Moderna vaccine, which can be more readily transported because it doesn't require extreme-cold storage, is to be offered to residents in continuing care facilities across the province, including some on First Nations, starting Wednesday.
Dr. Laura McDougall, senior medical health officer with health services, said more vaccination clinics will also be opening to continue with the Pfizer-BioNTech shots for health-care workers.
We're “trying our very hardest to get to that 29,000 mark by the end of this calendar year," she said, adding the goal may not be met until the first week of January.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2020.
The Canadian Press