Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,646 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 17,200 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at 9.5%.

We have identified 1,020 additional cases of variants of concern in the last 24 hours. Variants currently represent about 54% of our active cases. 

There are now active alerts or outbreaks in 478 schools, which represent 20% of all schools in the province.

Yesterday, Alberta Education moved grades 7 to 12 to online learning in all Calgary schools.

To complement this decision, effective Monday, all extra-curricular, youth sport, recreational and performance activities within the City of Calgary will be required to either take place outdoors or be paused during this same two-week period.

We know this may be disruptive to families, however, by shifting these activities outdoors, they can continue in a lower-risk setting.

We will update the website and alert stakeholders of this change as soon as possible.

As I’ve said before, we are seeing a sharp rise in cases among younger Albertans in this third wave along with all other age groups.

While a change to move older students online in Calgary was an operational decision, I support it.

The best thing we can all do to reduce cases in schools and all other settings is to stop the virus from spreading in our communities.

We all need to help reduce transmission. I would ask that all parents and students continue making safe choices and remember that social activities outside of school can easily spread the virus and put schools at risk.

There are now 416 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 86 in the ICU.

We have now administered more than 1 million doses of vaccine in the province.

I am also pleased to announce that Alberta health Services will soon implement a program to immunize eligible, long stay patients in acute care facilities across the province.

Patients who are eligible will be able to receive their COVID-19 immunization on site, while in hospital, if they wish.

Eligibility will be based on a variety of factors, including the provincial rollout plan, length of stay in acute care, and the patient’s medical condition.

We expect this program to be available at all acute care sites across the province within the next few weeks.

Sadly, five new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.

My condolences go to the family and friends of those who have passed away.

Each death is another reminder that we are not yet through this, and that the best way to help protect our friends and family is to bring down our cases.

Today, I want to talk about AstraZeneca vaccine.  

Specifically, I’d like to talk about how you can get the vaccine, how rare the blood clots that have been reported really are, and what benefits the vaccine offers.

Right now, the vaccine is available to anyone in Alberta between the ages of 55 and 64.

You can book an appointment at participating pharmacies across the province, or online with Alberta Health Services.

I am also pleased to announce that walk-in vaccinations are available at 26 participating pharmacies in Calgary and Edmonton.

AHS will also open two walk-in AstraZeneca vaccine clinics on Saturday in Calgary and Edmonton.

While these walk-in locations are limited to Calgary and Edmonton, you don’t need to live there to get your dose.

Anyone in the 55-64 age group, regardless of where they live, can walk in to these locations and receive their vaccine, or find a participating pharmacy nearby to make an appointment.

I know people have a lot of questions about this vaccine – specifically, how well it works and what the risks are.

It’s important to understand this information to make the choice that’s best for you.

First of all, the main benefit this vaccine provides is how it protects against COVID-19.

AstraZeneca’s first dose reduces infection by 60 to 70% and reduces hospitalizations by 80%, including against the B.1.1.7 variant.

Like any medication or therapy that has benefits, there are also some risks.

The most discussed risk that has been associated with this vaccine is rare blood clots that the Public Health Agency of Canada is calling vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT.

Essentially this means that in rare cases, the vaccine can trigger platelets, which are a clotting agent in our blood, to clump together.

This can cause blood clots to form, and lowers the number of platelets in the blood.

VITT is treatable. That’s why it’s important that everyone is aware of the symptoms such as severe or persistent headaches or abdominal pain in the four weeks after receiving the vaccine, and anyone experiencing them doesn’t hesitate to seek medical attention.

With all the coverage that’s out there, it can be easy to lose track of how rare these blood clots actually are.

Let me give you an example.

In the United Kingdom, where about 20.2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine had been given up to the end of March, 79 of these blood clotting events were reported in that time frame.

That means that 20 million, 199 thousand, 921 people benefited from the protection that their AstraZeneca vaccine gave them and did not experience this rare side effect.

So far, there has been one confirmed case in Canada – and none in Alberta.

We have received a small number of reports of people who have experienced blood clots in the four weeks after receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine.

These are all being investigated to determine whether they are VITT cases.

This involves a detailed clinical review by health officials and additional testing in some cases.

This type of blood clot that is associated with the vaccine has a characteristic combination of low platelets as well as blood clots, and specific tests are required to determine if cases meet the criteria.

We will let you know if a case is identified.

These reports, and the associated follow-up, are signs that our safety system is working.

We are closely monitoring all vaccines to protect your health and maintain transparency to ensure informed consent.

I know that any report of a side effect can be scary, especially when it comes to new treatments or vaccines.

However, let’s look at the numbers.

The global frequency of VITT has been estimated at approximately 1 case in 100,000 to 250,000 doses of vaccine.

In Alberta, someone between the ages of 55 and 59 who is diagnosed with COVID-19 has a 1 in 200 chance of dying from that infection.

Risks are even higher of ICU admission and hospitalization – Albertans between the ages of 55 and 64 are at least 1,500 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than experience VITT after getting AstraZeneca.

This tells us that this syndrome is very rare, and in this age group, the risks of serious harm from COVID infection are much greater than the risk of this rare outcome.

For anyone infected with COVID-19, they are much more likely to experience a blood clot from COVID. About 1 in 4 people hospitalized with COVID get blood clots.

We don’t yet have enough vaccines for everyone in our population, and those who would otherwise have to wait a month or more for Moderna or Pfizer vaccine can choose protection now instead of no protection while our transmission rates rise.

While not getting vaccinated may feel like a way to protect your health by avoiding the rare risk of a blood clot following vaccine, waiting can actually increase your risk of getting sick, or worse.

It’s also important to remember that in the general population, blood clots happen more than many people realize.

Other forms of blood clots can occur after a wide variety of conditions or medications.

By taking birth control medication, ibuprofen and many other types of medications, we are also exposing ourselves to an increased risk of experiencing various forms of blood clots.

We accept that risk because it is very small and because it is far outweighed by the benefits that come from getting the treatment or medication we need.

The same principle applies for this vaccine.

AstraZeneca’s benefit is preventing infection and severe outcomes, and the risks are rare.

Yesterday, Health Canada released an updated review of the AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

It concluded that though these rare events may be linked to use of the vaccine, the risk of them is very low compared to the risk of catching COVID-19 and the associated long-term health effects, hospitalization and, in the worst cases, even death.

The World Health Organization and European Medicines Agency have issued similar recommendations.

With cases rising, it is more important than ever that as many of us as possible are protected now, instead of waiting.

If you are 55 to 64, and not part of phase 2B or 2C, it will be many weeks before you can get a vaccine – and it will take another two weeks after getting your first dose to build up some immunity.

This means that delaying getting AstraZeneca is putting your health at increased risk during this time of waiting. 

If you are in that eligible group and have more questions, please speak with your family physician about any questions or concerns.

Rely on proven information, not rumours.

I also know that some who are younger than 55 are interested in getting the protection that this vaccine offers.

Given the Health Canada assessment, we will be discussing this question with our Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization this week to get their perspective.

Because AstraZeneca appears to grow more effective the longer you wait for the second dose, we will continue waiting 12 weeks before giving the second dose, no matter the supply.

There are no risk-free options with COVID-19, and this includes delaying getting a vaccine.

It is my professional opinion that the benefits of these vaccines outweigh any rare risks that may be associated.

Vaccines save lives and vaccines will get us through this pandemic.

As soon as you are offered a vaccine, whichever it may be, please take it to protect your health and the health of those around you.

If you are eligible for AstraZeneca, please book your appointment as soon as you can, or take the opportunity of walk-in vaccination.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.