Published:February 23, 2022

-Global News

The health minister hopes to see an increase in Alberta’s vaccination rate days ahead of the province likely lifting nearly all COVID-19 public health measures.

The province is expected to announce this Saturday its final decision about moving to Phase 2 in its plan to ease restrictions. That date is tentatively slated for March 1 and would see the end of Alberta’s mask mandate, all indoor and outdoor capacity limits, restrictions on youth activities and schools, as well as the mandatory work-from-home requirement.

As the province continues to ease measures, Health Minister Jason Copping said he would like to see a boost in vaccine uptake, particularly when it comes to boosters and youth.

“The science is clear: the single, most effective way to protect ourselves and each other is by getting vaccinated,” Copping said Wednesday afternoon.

While about 86.8 per cent of adults have at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, Copping said only 44.9 per cent have received their third dose.

“There are still hundreds of thousands of people who haven’t yet received (a booster),” Copping said.

“We need to close the gap to help keep hospitalizations low as we prepare to further ease measures.”

Copping also pointed to the province’s youth vaccination rate. Currently, 47.2 per cent of Alberta’s children and youth have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and just 24 per cent have received two doses.

In hopes of boosting the youth vaccination rate, the province announced increased access to pediatric COVID-19 vaccines in Alberta.

Starting March 2, pediatric vaccines for children aged five to 11 will be available at 150 pharmacies and some physician offices.

From March 2-16, Alberta Health Services clinics across Alberta will also offer pediatric vaccines on a walk-in basis, during the evening and on the weekend. The province will assess the need for the vaccines in clinics after March 16 based on demand.

“We are constantly looking for ways to make vaccination easier for Albertans of all ages,” Copping said. “That is why we are increasing options for families who have made the choice to get their children protected. Extended hours and walk-in availability will help working families take their children for vaccines at times that work best for them.”

The list of pharmacies offering pediatric vaccines can be found on the Alberta Blue Cross website.

The list of AHS clinics offering the vaccine, as well as clinic hours, can be found on the AHS website.

“Some parents are taking a wait-and-see attitude in terms of, ‘We’ll see how the rollout goes.’ I also understand that some parents who have seen their kids get COVID with the Omicron wave, which has been so prevalent throughout the province, at this point in time saying maybe, ‘Oh, I’m going to hold back’ if they haven’t got vaccinated.

“I would urge all parents that the best protection, even if someone who actually had COVID, is to get vaccinated.”

The vaccine push comes as Copping said nearly all indicators continue to trend down.

There are now 1,373 in hospital with or due to COVID-19. Of those, 90 are being treated in intensive care. Copping said that’s compared to 1,500 people who were in hospital one week ago — 121 of whom were in the ICU.

“This decrease is a positive sign that pressure is easing on our health-care system,” he said.

In the last 24 hours, 13 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health. Over four days of the Family Day long weekend (Friday to Monday), 40 deaths were reported to Alberta Health. The province’s death toll from COVID-19 has now reached 3,883.

The province reported 791 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours from about 2,800 tests. The positivity rate sits at 27 per cent.

The number of lab-confirmed active cases has also continued to decrease and now sits at 11,189. Copping said the number of lab-confirmed active cases has decreased by 68 per cent compared to the beginning of February.

However, because of limited access to PCR testing, health officials have said the actual number of COVID-19 cases in the community is likely much higher than what’s being recorded.