EDMONTON — Alberta has started running out of federally supplied COVID-19 vaccines, with supply completely used up in parts of the province and other regions having to reduce appointments to ration remaining doses for vulnerable populations.
In Calgary, a shortage of available vaccines meant that 1,500 health-care workers had vaccines earmarked for them redistributed this week so that those in long-term care centres and supportive living could receive them instead.
And, because of the dwindling supply of Moderna vaccines, 2,000 injections were delayed across the province, said the province’s health authority. The province expected to have used up its remaining 2,700 Moderna doses by the end of the day Wednesday.
“We need additional product,” said Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson in an email. Provinces must rely on the federal government to provide vaccine supplies.
In the central zone — roughly between Edmonton and Calgary, and including Red Deer and several other communities — all available vaccine doses were used up over the weekend.
Williamson said “several sites” in the north of the province also used up their vaccine supply, and appointments had to be cancelled in the south zone, which is south of Calgary and includes Lethbridge.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said it was her understanding only “open appointments” were eliminated, so if there were cancelled appointments, it wouldn’t have been a “large amount.”
“My understanding is the impact of that has been in taking appointments that were previously open and available and closing them down,” Hinshaw said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, supply had dwindled to around 2,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4,500 of the Pfizer vaccine, but the Alberta government did receive a shipment of around 24,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
“While AHS has the ability and capacity to complete all immunizations at long-term care and designated supportive living facilities by the end of the week, we may not have the required vaccine supply to achieve that,” Williamson wrote.
The Moderna shipment is delayed, and multiple sites around the province are awaiting it. While those who haven’t had any vaccine doses could be swapped between Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, those who’ve already had the first shot do not have that option.
“If somebody has received a first dose of either of those products, then their second dose would be with the same product,” Hinshaw said.
The Alberta government projects that, given the rate of inoculation, and second doses coming due, by next week the province will be short by around 46,000 doses and not returning to a surplus of doses until mid-February.
The federal government says 24,375 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 17,100 of the Moderna vaccine are expected in Alberta by Jan. 17. By the start of February, Ottawa says Alberta will be getting 42,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 24,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Roughly four weeks into the national vaccine rollout, premiers and pundits are clamouring for the Liberal government to provide more doses as vaccination plans are put into place and citizens eagerly anticipate a return to normal.
Premier Jason Kenney has flagged the gap between the capacity of the Alberta government to deliver vaccines — between 50,000 and 200,000 doses per week — and the expected number of doses the province will receive, to eventually reach nearly 70,000 per week.
“And I want to be clear, this is not a blame game. But we’re just saying that Alberta’s health system has stepped up in a big way here. And we need more doses, bottom line. It’s very simple,” Kenney said earlier this week.