COVID-19 booster shot eligibility is being expanded to all Albertans aged 18 and older, while two more cases of the Omicron variant were identified in the province Wednesday.
Albertans aged 60 and older who are six months past their second dose of vaccine will be able to book their third dose on Thursday, with appointments starting Monday, Health Minister Jason Copping announced. The rollout of boosters for subsequent age groups will be dependent on vaccine supply.
“Booster doses will be administered by appointment and walk-ins at some sites,” Copping said.
“Appointments will be available at more than 1,400 pharmacies across the province, as well as AHS sites and participating physician clinics, and clinics on reserve.”
Along with those aged 60 and older, First Nations, Métis and Inuit people aged 18 and older, health-care workers providing direct patient care who received their second dose less than eight weeks after their first dose, and individuals who received two doses of AstraZeneca or one dose of Janssen vaccine are eligible.
As well, seniors living in congregate care who are five months past their second dose and individuals with eligible immunocompromising conditions with at least eight weeks since their second dose are also eligible.
Bookings will be based on birth date.
Copping said to date, more than 373,000 eligible Albertans have received a third dose of vaccine and he is hopeful numbers will be as high as first and second doses.
“We are going to continue to provide information to individuals about the effectiveness of vaccines and urge them to do so and continue to answer their questions,” he said.
“We’re also working on a strategy to provide more information to deal with those who are vaccine-hesitant at this point in time because we still have roughly 10 per cent of the population (unvaccinated) and we’re going to continue to work on that 10 per cent to get it as widespread as possible.”
In a statement, opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd welcomed the news of booster shots but stressed the importance of getting first and second doses.
“We need in-school vaccination clinics immediately, and a robust education and outreach program to support families in getting their kids vaccinated,” Shepherd said.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced two more cases of the Omicron variant were identified in a traveller who recently returned from South Africa and the Netherlands, and a household contact of that person.
“These individuals have done nothing wrong and should not be stigmatized. They’re isolating and all appropriate public health followup is underway,” Hinshaw said.
“To date, only mild symptoms have been reported, and these individuals are recovering at home.”
Alberta reported 430 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 10,756 tests completed over the last 24 hours for a positivity rate of 4.1 per cent.
Across the province, there are 4,619 active cases of COVID-19, an increase of 74 since Tuesday.
There are currently 424 Albertans hospitalized with the virus, a decrease of 10. Of those, 79 are in the ICU, a decrease of two.
Seven more deaths raised the provincial death toll to 3,255.
As of end-of-day Tuesday, 88.8 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19, while 84.1 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Of the 391,430 Albertans aged five to 11, 8.6 per cent have received their first dose.
Hinshaw also noted she’s heard reports of a “very concerning trend” of parents withdrawing consent for all vaccines at schools because they are worried their child may receive a COVID-19 vaccine without their knowledge.
She said no child will receive any vaccine in school without parent or guardian consent and knowledge.
“Parents can be confident that if they have consented to their child receiving routine immunizations, this is the only vaccine their child will receive at school,” she said.
“It is critical that children continue to receive their standard immunizations to help protect them from diseases like measles, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Even in the middle of the pandemic, these diseases and other viruses like seasonal influenza continue to pose a potential risk and we must do everything we can to minimize them.”