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Albertans to wait another week for bivalent COVID-19 boosters

Albertans looking to get more Omicron-specific vaccine coverage will have to wait another week until they can book or get a bivalent shot.

On Wednesday, the Alberta government announced their rollout plans for the new doses.

Albertans aged 18 and older who have completed a primary series of COVID-19 vaccination are eligible, but must wait five months between doses. “A shortened interval can be considered” for individuals at higher risk of severe outcomes, a press release from the province read.

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Bookings for and administration of doses begins on Sept. 21. Bookings can be made online or through Health Link at 811.

The province also noted a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine for Albertans aged 12-17 is expected in late September or early October.

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And starting the week of Oct. 3, the bivalent booster will be offered with the influenza vaccine to residents in senior congregate care facilities.

News of the bivalent vaccine came after weeks of Albertans wondering when they might have access to doses tailored to better fit the Omicron BA.1 variant.

Click to play video: 'Learning about the bivalent vaccine'

Learning about the bivalent vaccine

Learning about the bivalent vaccine

Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization approved the Moderna Spikevax Omicron-specific vaccine on Sept. 1.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 32,300 doses were sent to Alberta on Sept. 8.

Documents obtained by Global News, McKesson, a pharmacy distributor in Canada, showed pharmacies were told they could start ordering the bivalent doses on Tuesday, information the Health ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

The distributor advised pharmacies to await official notification before administering doses.

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“Please do not vaccinate until this is confirmed,” the McKesson memo stated.

A memo sent to Alberta pharmacies from supplier McKesson announcing orders for doses of Moderna’s bivalent vaccine opened on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

Global News

A frustrating wait

Sarah Mackey with Vax Hunters Alberta called the weeks-long wait for the rollout plans “frustrating.”

“People have been waiting for a booster. They’re a long way past their last one and we’re also now back at school. People are more exposed, you’ve got high risk family members. There’s so many reasons that people want these bivalent boosters. They want to be protected and they don’t even know when they’re going to be able to get access,” she said.

Mackey questioned why the province doesn’t have a refined COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, 20 months after initial vaccines were approved in December 2020.

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“They should have a process in place for this where they say, ‘Okay, this is a limited quantity. So we’re going to go to version A where it’s the most high risk people first’ or, ‘Oh, we know that there are a lot of outbreaks happening in long-term care facilities. So we’re going to start there.’

“They’ve done this before. This is no longer winter of 2021 where we’re trying to figure out who needs to be the priority process,” Mackey said.

Benefits to bivalent

University of Alberta infectious disease professor Dr. Lynora Saxinger said the bivalent vaccine could provide a clearer path through the ongoing pandemic.

“There is a really strong reason to believe that the Omicron booster could help reduce infection more – because we’re not reducing infection as much with our vaccines now, we’re reducing disease more. So if we reduce infection more, we can reduce transmission more, and we can maintain a more normal level of functioning across the health-care system, across society.”

Saxinger said booster shots formulated from the original strain of COVID-19 still reduce the risk of severe outcomes, “which is pretty significant and important, especially if people are older, more frail, or have multiple medical conditions.”

“At the moment, people who had two doses really do have a disadvantage in terms of prevention of severe disease,” she said, noting the more time that’s elapsed since a vaccine dose, the less effective the immune response.

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Slow roll out

Alberta is one of the last provinces to announce its rollout of the vaccine specially formulated to better address the Omicron variant that remains dominant in Canada.

Neighbouring Saskatchewan started booking bivalent doses on Monday for citizens 18 and older who are living in long-term care, personal care homes and other congregate living facilities.

On Sept. 6, British Columbia announced it was kicking off its fall COVID-19 booster campaign with the bivalent doses.

On Sept. 8, Quebec started rolling out bivalent doses for everyone 30 and older.

Read more:

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Ontario and Nunavut started booking and providing doses to their most-vulnerable populations: people 70 and older, long-term care residents and healthcare workers on Monday.

The day after the federal approval for the Moderna-manufactured bivalent vaccine, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories said they would do a phased rollout of the Omicron-targeted vaccine.

Previously, the only COVID-19 vaccines available in Canada were monovalent — tailored solely to the original novel coronavirus.

In addition to defending against this earlier strain, the new shots from Moderna are designed to recognize specific mutations in the spike protein of the Omicron BA.1 subvariant.

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Click to play video: 'Expectations for 2022/23 flu season in Alberta'

Expectations for 2022/23 flu season in Alberta

Expectations for 2022/23 flu season in Alberta

Health Canada’s chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma told a news conference on Sept. 1 that the BA.1-targeted vaccine authorized Thursday also generates a “good” immune response against the BA. 4 and BA. 5 strains.

Hospitalizations climb on younger admissions

In the weekly COVID-19 data release, the province revealed there are now 819 people in hospital — an increase of 20 from the week before — and 26 are in ICU — six more than last week.

Of the 20 new hospitalizations, 15 were of people younger than 20.

Sixteen more Albertans had COVID-19 attributed as their cause of death in the last week, bringing the pandemic death toll to 4,848. Thirteen of those deaths came in people aged over 80 years old.

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The seven-day average positivity rate on PCR tests administered by the province rose a quarter of a percent to nearly 17 per cent. The province restricted PCR tests to individuals at clinical risk of severe disease or who live and/or work in high-risk settings.

— With files from Lauren Pullen, Breanna Karstens-Smith and Brody Langager, Global News, and The Canadian Press.

Click to play video: '‘The Healing Project’ art installation reflects COVID-19 experiences in St. Albert'

‘The Healing Project’ art installation reflects COVID-19 experiences in St. Albert

‘The Healing Project’ art installation reflects COVID-19 experiences in St. Albert – Sep 6, 2022

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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