Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon.

We are a bit earlier than usual, so I do not have all of our standard numbers.

However, the website will be updated at 3:30 today with all of the COVID-19 data.

I can say that we have now administered more than 608,000 doses of vaccine in our province.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 545 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 8,300 tests. 

This puts our positivity rate at about 6.5%.

We have identified 249 new cases of the variants of concern. About 27% of our active cases are currently variants of concern.

There are 288 people in hospital for COVID-19 treatment, including 64 admitted to the ICU.

I am pleased to say that no new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.  

Today, I want to provide a couple of important updates about Alberta’s vaccination program.

The first is about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Following extensive discussions with our provincial and federal partners, Alberta is temporarily pausing the use of AstraZeneca in anyone under the age of 55.

This is a precautionary measure that is being taken across Canada.

As I mentioned to you last week, there have been some rare instances of blood clots reported in Europe that require more investigation.

While all available data and evidence shows no increase in the overall risk of blood clots for those who receive AstraZeneca, in a very small number of people who received the vaccine, a blood clot in the brain was reported 4 to 20 days after the vaccine.

These incidents are rare, and at this point seem to be linked to AstraZeneca, possibly through an immune response.

There is no evidence of any similar issues linked to the other vaccines that we are using in Alberta.

There have also been no reported cases of these blood clots following immunization, in Alberta or anywhere in Canada.

However, safety is always our top priority.

This pause will allow Health Canada to conduct further assessments and gather more information from around the world.

This change is based on new information reported late last week, and over the weekend regarding some additional cases and a lack of a connection to a specific lot or batch of the vaccine.

I want to assure you that anyone under the age of 55 who has already received a dose of AstraZeneca vaccine is not considered to be at high risk of blood clots.

However, as with anyone who receives any medication, including vaccine, they should monitor their health and seek immediate medical attention if they experience health concerns.

We will continue monitoring the emerging evidence around this issue.

We will also continue doing everything possible to ensure that our immunization program remains safe and effective.

Studies are underway that will help determine what vaccine those already immunized with AstraZeneca will be able to receive when it comes time for their second dose in the months ahead.

I know this sort of news may cause some concern for Albertans, and that is understandable.

However, I want to assure you this temporary pause is the result of our robust safety monitoring working the way that it should.

I also want to reiterate that there have been no safety signals related to the other vaccines we’re using in the province.

The AstraZeneca vaccine remains a good choice for those who are at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, who would otherwise have to wait several months to access a vaccine.

It is important to remember that AstraZeneca is very effective at preventing severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection, and that COVID-19 infections come with a very significant risk of blood clots and other complications.

In other words, the benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh the small potential risks in groups more likely to have severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection such as those age 55 and older.

Because of this, we will continue to offer it safely for Albertans over the age of 55, when more doses arrive in the coming weeks.

The second vaccination update I want to provide today is letting you know that Phase 2B of our immunization program starts tomorrow.

This phase focuses on immunizing anyone with underlying health conditions that put them at high risk of severe outcomes if they contract COVID-19.

This means that cancer patients, transplant recipients, individuals with severe disabilities, dementia and other conditions will be able to get the vaccine.

The list of conditions is long and I encourage everyone who may have one of these conditions to visit to find out if they are eligible.

I know that many people will be excited that Phase 2B is soon to be underway. At the same time, we must ask for Albertans’ patience.

With nearly 1 million Albertans in phase 2B, this is the largest single group we have made eligible for vaccination.

With limited supply, we will have to move slowly and take small steps until more doses arrive.

Starting tomorrow, Albertans born in 1963 or earlier with underlying health conditions can book an appointment at participating pharmacies in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer.

Pharmacies in other communities will start booking later next week as more doses arrive.

Starting April 5, all Albertans born in 1957, 1958 and 1959, with one or more of the high-risk underlying health conditions, will also be able to book appointments with Alberta Health Services.

Additional birth years in Phase 2B will become eligible as more vaccines arrive.

Thank you in advance for being patient through the process, and thank you for being kind to the staff who are helping along the way.

We are not requiring a doctor’s note or other proof of one of these conditions to get high-risk individuals vaccinated as soon, and as efficiently, as possible.

I know many, many, many Albertans will benefit from vaccination, including those with other medical conditions,

But I urge people to wait their turn and ensure those at the highest risk receive protection first.

I would also like to remind individuals in Group 1 and 2A that you continue to be eligible, so please book your shot as soon as possible.

As I’ve said before, immunization saves lives.

The highly effective protection against COVID-19 that they offer far outweigh the rare risks that may be possible.

We continue to monitor every dose for any adverse events, and so far we have not seen a significant increase in the rate or severity of reactions.

If there are any safety signals reported here at home or around the world, they are investigated quickly and thoroughly to ensure we’re taking the appropriate steps to protect you.

Today’s announcement on pausing AstraZeneca is proof of that.

Every day, we immunize thousands more people across the province.

And every day we get a little closer to a safe return to normal.

I know that many people are eager to move on, to ease restrictions and start moving past this pandemic.

It will take a few more months, but there are things that each of us can do to help make that happen.

The first is to get immunized as soon as you are eligible to do so.

Also, support those around you in getting the vaccine as well.

Make sure your parents, grandparents and extended family are aware of the vaccine and how to book their appointments.

In the meantime, please continue to respect the health measures in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to protect each other.

Twice, we have bent the curve before by limiting in-person interactions and by protecting each other and our communities, and we can do it again.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.