Alberta third dose uptake lags behind rest of Canada amid sixth wave

Hinshaw said receiving a third dose reduces the risk of severe outcomes for those who contract the novel coronavirus

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Health officials are urging Albertans to roll up their sleeves for their booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine as the pandemic’s sixth wave continues to roll through the province.

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In Alberta, third-dose vaccine coverage lags well behind the rest of the country, according to Health Canada data. Only 46.8 per cent of Alberta adults have received that first booster shot.

That’s compared to the Canadian average of 57.3 per cent; in every other province and territory, at least half of all adults have had a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during a Wednesday news conference that receiving a third dose reduces the risk of severe outcomes for those who contract the virus.

She said provincial data show that over the past four months, unvaccinated Albertans who catch COVID were about three times more likely to be hospitalized and eight times more likely to need intensive-care treatment than their boosted peers.

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“I just would emphasize how much of a difference that third dose makes, and how important it is for anyone who is 18 or older to access the protection that third dose provides,” Hinshaw said.

That message comes during a sixth wave that’s continuing to kill dozens of Albertans each week. Over the past week, 49 Albertans died from the virus, bringing its toll in the province to 4,190 deaths.

Alberta’s latest virus data, released Wednesday, show an increase in hospitalizations related to the virus. There are now 1,126 infected Albertans in hospital, up from 1,053, while ICU admissions are down to 43 from 48 last week.

Health Minister Jason Copping said the latest data is “mixed” but some trends could signal a plateau in infections. The province logged a 24.7 per cent test-positivity rate from PCR tests over the past week, down from 26.4 per cent in the previous seven-day period.

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Wastewater data for Calgary and area also suggests virus prevalence is plateauing, with rates of the virus in sewage at about the same level as the previous week. But Cumming School of Medicine Dean Dr. Jon Meddings stressed on Twitter “truly spectacular amounts of disease” remain in the community.

Copping said the virus remains “a real risk” for those not immunized.

He suggested a driving force behind Alberta’s low third-dose immunization rate is that many people who were infected during the Omicron wave opted not to get the shot, in line with public health recommendations to wait 90 days after infection to get the vaccine.

Alberta is planning to launch a larger campaign in the coming weeks to encourage third doses, Copping added.

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Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping.
Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia, file

University of Calgary infectious disease physician Dr. Dan Gregson said Alberta’s slow uptake on second doses could also play a role in low booster shot numbers, with insufficient time having passed between shots for some.

He said some only got that second shot to meet the requirements of Alberta’s vaccine passport, a program the province discontinued in February.

“A lot of people said, ‘I need it for travel, I need it for restaurants, I want to go to bars,’” Gregson said.

It’s unsurprising Alberta has lower third-dose rates than elsewhere in Canada, given its uptake in areas such as youth immunization are also comparatively low, said Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Alberta Children’s Hospital.

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She said increased complacency is one main factor, with decreased focus on COVID-19 and the removal of public health measures sending a message to Albertans the pandemic now poses less of a threat.

“I think people no longer see it as a threat to their personal well-being, they don’t see it as a threat to the health-care system, they don’t see it as a threat to their businesses,” Constantinescu said. “So they’ve lost some of that motivation to get vaccinated.”

Constantinescu said a key public health message should be that vaccines are a tool to help reduce virus spread and severity, lowering the chance health restrictions will need to be reintroduced.

“We need to attack complacency by saying to people, ‘COVID is still here.’ It’s clear we’re in the sixth wave,” she said.

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Some Albertans are also eligible for a fourth dose of vaccine, including all Albertans 70 and older and people 12 and older who have certain immunocompromising conditions, as long as at least five months have passed since their previous shot.

Hinshaw said public health officials are looking at expanding eligibility for fourth doses, but said the focus is on prioritizing those who would benefit most.

Elsewhere, Copping said Wednesday more than 1,000 prescriptions have been written in Alberta for Paxlovid, an antiviral drug that significantly reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 illness. That’s about 300 more than the previous week; about 16,000 courses of treatment remain in stock for eligible Albertans, a group that includes older, unvaccinated people and those who are immunocompromised.

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In Calgary, COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared at four city hospitals, infecting 31 patients. That includes four units in an outbreak at Rockyview General Hospital, with 19 cases of the virus logged there.

As well, 51 continuing-care sites in the city have active outbreaks, meaning at least two COVID-19 cases have been detected.

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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