In a news release Friday afternoon, the Alberta government said vaccine appointments will be offered to health-care workers in medical, surgical and COVID-19 units, “starting immediately.”
That group includes about 3,300 staff who work on COVID-19 units and 15,400 who work in medical and surgical units, the province said.
These workers were initially included in Phase 1B of Alberta’s vaccine rollout, which wasn’t scheduled to take place until February.
However, Alberta doctors have been pushing the government to give those who work in COVID-19 units priority access to the vaccine.
“We’re elated,” said Dr. Neeja Bakshi, a COVID-19 ward physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.
“There’s a bit of cautious optimism until we actually get our vaccination appointments and get that notification from Alberta Health, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.
“It feels like we’ve been heard. We’ve been advocating and pushing to get some consideration, particularly for our COVID nurses and COVID support staff on the units,” she said.
“They’re in those rooms far more than we are. It was really important for us to speak up for them.”
Bakshi said the reality is everyone needs the vaccine, but she’s pleased the province took another look at how it prioritized immunization.
“COVID unit staff have been doing this dedicated work for 10 months,” she said. “We’ve been consistently in harm’s way. Sure, we have PPE and we have ways that we should be protecting ourselves. But the reality is we’re tired. We’re exhausted. We feel like: ‘How are we going to continue to do this?’
“The vaccine represented that first piece of hope.”
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Also on Friday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw issued a directive that will allow doctors, nurses and pharmacists who are not Alberta Health Services employees to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There are many regulated health practitioners who are authorized and have the knowledge, skill and competence to issue a vaccine,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health explained.
“This directive will help us empower as many of our dedicated health-care workers as possible to join the broader team and help immunize Albertans.”
As of Jan. 7, Alberta has administered 37,686 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
That translates to 852.3 doses per 100,000 population, one the highest per capita rates in the country, according to the national COVID-19 tracker website.
“We’ve made remarkable progress in our vaccine rollout,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in the news release.
“Our goal from the beginning has been to get doses delivered as quickly as we receive them. We want to see every appointment filled, which is why I’ve asked Alberta Health Services to start offering the vaccine to health-care workers from COVID-19 and medical or surgical units, and get them booked for appointments.”
Alberta received its first 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 14, followed by an additional 25,000 doses on Dec. 22. On Jan. 5, Shandro said about 13,000 more doses were “in the air.” Alberta Health confirmed Friday that shipment had arrived and “will be distributed as soon as possible.”
On Dec. 29, Alberta received 16,900 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Shandro said Jan. 5 he wanted to ramp up vaccinations.
“I hope to see the daily number increase but it depends on when the shipments come.”
At that time, he said Phase 1A (January) would include respiratory therapists, health-care workers in ICU, staff in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, home-care workers, health-care workers in ERs and all residents of long-term care and designated supportive living facilities.
Phase 1B (February) was initially set to include seniors over 75, First Nations, Métis and persons over 65 living in a First Nations community or Métis settlement, health-care workers in medical, surgical and COVID-19 units or operating rooms.
Phase 2 was scheduled for between April and September. The targeted groups haven’t been identified yet.
Phase 3 – the anticipated rollout for the general population – is set for fall 2021.
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