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Two patients at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, Alta, both in their 80s, have died after contracting the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

A health spokesman says two patients at Calgary’s Foothills hospital have died from the Delta variant of COVID-19 – and one had been fully immunized.

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the two patients, a man and a woman, were in their 80s, had significant co-morbidities and probably acquired the virus in the hospital.

“It’s important to remember that even after immunization, it’s still possible to contract COVID-19,” Williamson said Thursday in a news release.

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“However, if immunized with either one or two doses, people are less likely to experience severe illness or require hospitalization.”

‘Variant of interest’ vs. ‘variant of concern’: What’s the difference?

Which COVID-19 ‘variants of concern’ are in Canada?

One patient had received two doses of an mRNA vaccine and the other had not been immunized.

They were among 23 patients and staff at Foothills who contracted the Delta variant first identified in India. Two of those infected had to be placed in intensive care while the majority experienced mild symptoms. Three were unvaccinated against the virus.

Williamson said vaccines are 33 per cent effective against the Delta variant on the first dose and 80 per cent after the second.

The Delta variant is being watched carefully in Alberta. The strain is now the dominant one in the United Kingdom and, with its rapid transmission, is threatening plans there to reopen the economy further and lift health restrictions.

Alberta is on the cusp of having 70 per cent of eligible recipients – those 12 and older – receiving at least one vaccine dose.

Premier Jason Kenney has said that two weeks after that mark is reached, the province will drop almost all health restrictions – meaning life could return to pre-pandemic normality by early July.

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Dr. Daniel Gregson, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases, said getting more vaccines administered, particularly the more-effective second doses, will be critical to how the Delta variant plays out in Alberta.

“Until you’ve got two doses in you, you really don’t have a flak jacket and a helmet on, so to speak. You really want to get both doses into as many people as quickly as possible,” said Gregson of the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

“What I have advised patients is if they haven’t had two doses [and two weeks to have them take effect] they should really limit their exposures if they can limit the number of contacts, keep it outdoors, stay away from places that are indoors without people [who are] masked.”

The province has administered nearly 3.6 million vaccine doses, so 69.9 per cent of all eligible recipients have had at least one dose. Almost one-quarter of those eligible have had the required two shots.

The response to first doses effectively stalled a week ago. In response, Kenney’s government this week announced three million-dollar lottery prizes over the summer along with travel awards to entice the vaccine hesitant to sign up.

Alberta reported 150 new cases of COVID-19 and two new deaths on Thursday. There were 242 people in hospital with the virus and 58 of them were in intensive care.

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There were 2,471 active cases and, of those, 1,796 were caused by the more contagious variants of concern.

On Wednesday, before the spring sitting of the legislature concluded, Kenney’s government passed a bill to give retroactive legal protection to health workers facing lawsuits over COVID-19. People will not be allowed to sue doctors, pharmacists and long-term care home operators unless it was for gross negligence.

Politicians aren’t expected to resume debate in the chamber until late October.

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