All residents in long-term care in Alberta, as well as the staff who look after them, have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, making the province the first to deliver the vaccination to all those who want it in those facilities.
While Alberta cleared this critical milestone over the weekend, it also halted its inoculation program for other critical groups after vaccine maker Pfizer said it is delaying shipments to Canada. Premier Jason Kenney said on Monday that all Albertans who need a second dose will receive one on-time, at the expense of others whose first dose will be paused.
In Alberta, 66 per cent of people who have died from the coronavirus resided in long-term care and designated supportive-living facilities. Provincial governments prioritized people living in homes as vaccine shipments started to arrive in December. While Canada is now facing a supply crunch, the country’s most populous provinces have largely succeeded in delivering the first of two doses to people living in these facilities.
Alberta Health Services has delivered roughly 90,000 doses of vaccine since Dec. 15, Mr. Kenney said, noting the initial campaign at the province’s 357 long-term care and designated supportive-living facilities wrapped on the weekend. Alberta, however, does not have enough vaccine “in storage” to offer more people their first dose, he said.
“It is great that we’ve been able to vaccinate so many, but we have quite simply run out of supply,” Mr. Kenney told reporters. “I’m deeply disappointed at the situation that we are now facing.”
Ottawa is in charge of procurement and is allocating vaccine, based on population, to provinces and territories who then decide how to divvy up doses within their respective borders. Pfizer last week said it would cut deliveries to Canada by half between Jan. 25 and Feb. 21 because of manufacturing issues in Europe.
Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said the province should receive enough vaccine to provide a second round of shots for people who already received their first dose and made an appointment for their follow-up jab. She does not anticipate having to extend the 42-day window between doses to make this happen.
Meanwhile, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province had achieved its objective of vaccinating more than 75 per cent of its 40,000 nursing-home residents, with 31,414 of them vaccinated. “But we will continue our efforts to vaccinate the rest of the group,” he added.
Quebec’s top priority group also includes 300,000 health care workers. So far about one-third of them have had the shot.
Ontario had vaccinated almost 43,000 residents in long-term care homes and retirement homes as of Monday afternoon. It expects to vaccinate all residents in long-term care facilities in Toronto, Peel, York and Windsor Essex, by Jan. 21, according to Anna Miller, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health. These four regions have the highest rate of transmission, she noted, and those in Toronto and Windsor are already complete.
Ontario has started vaccinating long-term care residents and staff in other parts of the province and aims to have first doses administered in all homes no later than Feb. 15, Ms. Miller said.
In British Columbia, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said the target is to have all residents and most staff in long-term care homes vaccinated by the end of next week. That is later than initially hoped, because of the delays of the Pfizer vaccine, Dr. Henry said. In care homes in the Lower Mainland, she said the vaccine program is “well on its way,” which is about 80-per-cent complete.
Manitoba expects to vaccinate eligible residents at personal care homes by the end of January, ahead of its initial schedule, the government said Monday.
Alika Lafontaine, an anesthesiologist in Grande Prairie, Alta., believes Alberta made the right decision to target long-term care facilities first. But now that the vaccination program is on hold, Alberta needs to better communicate its plan, he said. “We must do a much better job of showing where everyone else fits in.”
Alberta on Monday delayed vaccinations for First Nations and Métis people, as well as individuals living in these communities, because of the emerging supply shortage. The change also affects people over 75, regardless of where they live.
The Assembly of First Nations Alberta Association urged the province to protect Indigenous communities in the province.
“First Nations people in Alberta have higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 and do not have access to the same support or care that urban and non-Indigenous communities provide,” Regional Chief Marlene Poitras said in a statement. “In many cases, they are at greater risk than health care workers themselves.”
With reports from Les Perreaux in Montreal and Justine Hunter in Victoria
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