EDMONTON — Alberta is expanding its rollout of second-dose COVID-19 vaccines, allowing everyone over age 12 who has had a first shot to book a booster before the end of the month.
“This is yet another big milestone in our fight against COVID-19, and it takes us even closer to a post-pandemic world,” Premier Jason Kenney told a news conference Tuesday.
“If there are no unexpected delays to (vaccine) shipments, we expect most everyone awaiting their second dose should have it by the end of summer.”
Under the plan, anyone who received their first dose in March can book a second shot immediately.
Anyone vaccinated in April can start booking June 14, and those vaccinated in May can start booking June 28.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro also announced the province will follow the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and allow those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for their first dose to get either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for the second.
About two million Canadians received the AstraZeneca vaccine before provinces stopped using it for first doses last month over concerns it is potentially linked to a rare but serious blood-clotting syndrome.
The national committee said its recommendation takes into account the health risk and the emerging evidence that mixing different types of vaccines is not only safe but may produce a better immune response.
“After carefully reviewing the evidence from other jurisdictions, while AstraZeneca is still a good choice, we will offer Albertans a choice,” Shandro said.
The province has delivered 2.8 million doses of vaccine and almost 63 per cent of those eligible – 12 years of age and older – have received at least one shot.
Kenney said the province is already the leader among provinces on second shots. He said more than 10 per cent of those eligible have already received two doses, and 75 per cent of those over age 75 – the most vulnerable cohort – have been fully vaccinated.
The announcement comes on the same day Alberta lifted more public health restrictions on the first stage of its accelerated plan to lift health restrictions and return the province to a semblance of normality by early July.
Albertans can now book appointments at barber shops, hair salons and other personal wellness services, gather outdoors with up to 10 people and sit on a restaurant patio.
The changes announced last week are linked to more people getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and hospitalization numbers dropping.
The second phase of reopening could come as early as June 10, when entertainment venues like movie theatres and casinos would be able to reopen their doors.
At that time, restaurants will also be allowed to have diners inside rather than just on the patio. Outdoor social gatherings will be able to have up to 20 people.
The second phase is tied to vaccination and hospitalization rates that have already been reached, but the government is waiting two weeks for recent first-dose immunizations to take effect.
Alberta attained the second-phase benchmarks last week when 60 per cent of eligible vaccination recipients received at least one shot and the number of those in hospital for COVID-19 dropped below 500.
The third phase, which would see almost all restrictions lifted, is to happen once 70 per cent of eligible recipients have had a vaccination while hospitalization rates continue to decline.
That is projected to occur in late June or early July.
Alberta had 6,771 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. There were 438 people in hospital because of the virus, including 127 in intensive care.
Those numbers are a sharp decline compared with the peak of the third wave three weeks ago.
Kenney said earlier that he hopes the summer landscape includes a return to signature festivals, including the Calgary Stampede and K-Days in Edmonton.
The Stampede is aiming for a reduced festival experience from July 9-18, with midway rides and a rodeo, but without the signature chuckwagon races.
However, K-Days announced Tuesday it will not go ahead this summer.
“Rather than having an event simply to have it in 2021, we want to work with our stakeholders and partners on relaunching K-Days in 2022,” Northlands, the K-Days organizer, said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2021.
— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press