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Thousands of people have made appointments to receive Alberta’s first batch of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and the province’s top doctor says more will be able to do so in the days ahead.

Albertans born in 1957 were able to go online or call 811 to book their shots Wednesday. Alberta Health Services was encouraging people to use web bookings to take the load off the 811 Health Link phone line.

Indigenous people born in 1972 could also book appointments for the AstraZeneca shot by calling 811.

Between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., more than 11,500 people had booked, Alberta’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, told a media briefing.

“If you are eligible to get the vaccine, please do so and encourage your friends and neighbours to do so as well,” she said.

“The more people who become immunized, the less the virus will be able to mutate and the less it will impact our communities.”

Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson: Which COVID-19 vaccine will I get in Canada?

Canada pre-purchased millions of doses of seven different vaccine types, and Health Canada has approved four so far for the various provincial and territorial rollouts. All the drugs are fully effective in preventing serious illness and death, though some may do more than others to stop any symptomatic illness at all (which is where the efficacy rates cited below come in).

PFIZER-BIONTECH

  • Also known as: Comirnaty
  • Approved on: Dec. 9, 2020
  • Efficacy rate: 95 per cent with both doses in patients 16 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 15-year-olds
  • Traits: Must be stored at -70 C, requiring specialized ultracold freezers. It is a new type of mRNA-based vaccine that gives the body a sample of the virus’s DNA to teach immune systems how to fight it. Health Canada has authorized it for use in people as young as 12.

MODERNA

  • Also known as: SpikeVax
  • Approved on: Dec. 23, 2020
  • Efficacy rate: 94 per cent with both doses in patients 18 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 17-year-olds
  • Traits: Like Pfizer’s vaccine, this one is mRNA-based, but it can be stored at -20 C. It’s approved for use in Canada for ages 12 and up.

OXFORD-ASTRAZENECA

  • Also known as: Vaxzevria
  • Approved on: Feb. 26, 2021
  • Efficacy rate: 62 per cent two weeks after the second dose
  • Traits: This comes in two versions approved for Canadian use, the kind made in Europe and the same drug made by a different process in India (where it is called Covishield). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s latest guidance is that its okay for people 30 and older to get it if they can’t or don’t want to wait for an mRNA vaccine, but to guard against the risk of a rare blood-clotting disorder, all provinces have stopped giving first doses of AstraZeneca.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

  • Also known as: Janssen
  • Approved on: March 5, 2021
  • Efficacy rate: 66 per cent two weeks after the single dose
  • Traits: Unlike the other vaccines, this one comes in a single injection. NACI says it should be offered to Canadians 30 and older, but Health Canada paused distribution of the drug for now as it investigates inspection concerns at a Maryland facility where the active ingredient was made.

How many vaccine doses do I get?

All vaccines except Johnson & Johnson’s require two doses, though even for double-dose drugs, research suggests the first shots may give fairly strong protection. This has led health agencies to focus on getting first shots to as many people as possible, then delaying boosters by up to four months. To see how many doses your province or territory has administered so far, check our vaccine tracker for the latest numbers.

Starting Thursday morning, anyone born in 1958 and Indigenous people born in 1973 can sign up to be vaccinated, Hinshaw said. More birth years will be added as supplies allow.

The province has about 58,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and more are anticipated to arrive next week.

Alberta is following the advice of a national immunization committee and is not offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people 65 and older. That’s because clinical trials didn’t include enough people in that age group to determine efficacy.

Online booking was overwhelmed last month when the province began offering shots of two other approved vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier.

Alberta Health Services says it has added queuing technology that tells users how many people are waiting ahead of them and if the wait is longer than an hour.

On Wednesday, Alberta reported 399 new COVID-19 infections and two deaths.

There were 254 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 37 in intensive care.

Hinshaw said 47 of the new cases involve virus variants believed to be more transmissible, bringing the province’s variant total to 734 since the first was identified in a traveller in mid-December.

She said the proportion of active cases that involve a variant has risen to nine per cent from three per cent in late January.

In some parts of the world, that proportion has grown from three or four per cent to more than half within six weeks, Hinshaw added.

“This means our health measures – both our overall restrictions as well as the targeted measures for variant cases – are working to slow the growth and, if we continue to work together, we can continue to limit the spread.”

She urged Albertans who have been immunized to continue to follow public health measures.

“I know it can be tempting to let your guard down after immunization, but we need to better study and understand the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing transmission, including asymptomatic and variant transmission, before we can safely alter our policies.”

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