Check against delivery.

Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon everyone.

I would like to begin today by providing some additional details about the expanded variant screening that is now underway, to follow up on the Premier’s comments.

As you know, our labs have done remarkable work in screening for variants of concern.

We not only started screening all positive samples in late January, but also conducted retrospective testing of all positive cases in our border pilot.

Last month, when demand for testing was very high, our lab made an adjustment to ensure Albertans could continue accessing testing and receiving their results in a timely fashion.

To preserve capacity and keep wait times low, we limited the screening to targeted, high-risk samples and a representative sample of all other populations.

This approach was in line with other provinces and was very effective in helping track the spread of variants in a representative sample during our third wave.

However, with positive cases rapidly declining, we are now able to once again expand our screening approach.

Starting today, all positive test results in Alberta will undergoing screening tests for variants of concern.

This includes screening for not only the B.1.1.7 – or UK variant – which is the dominant strain in Alberta, but also the B.1.617 variant first identified in India, and the other two variants of concern, P.1 and B.1.351.

Because we are screening all cases, we may see the case counts of these specific variants begin to rise, even as our overall cases fall.

But it is a good thing to expand this screening. Every case we identify will help us track and limit further spread as we move toward further reopening.

As I’ve said before, testing is a partnership that takes all of us.

Please get tested if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or if you are identified as a close contact. It remains essential to protecting you and everyone around you.

While the Premier already updated you on most of today’s numbers, I will now add that there are active alerts or outbreaks in 417 schools, which represent 17% of schools in the province.

This includes outbreaks and alerts that were opened before the two-week online school shift, and these are closing gradually as the four-week time period after the last case ends.

Sadly, one new death was reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.

I extend my condolences to the family and friends of this individual, and to anyone who has lost someone they loved.

One of the best ways we can avoid future deaths from this virus, and spare families the pain of watching their loved ones suffer any severe outcomes, is to be vaccinated.

It’s wonderful to see so many Albertans already receive their first dose and the protection that comes with it.

There’s no question that this uptake has had a substantial effect on reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the province.

If you are unsure about getting a first dose, please remember that every person who is protected will help us prevent future waves.  

These vaccines are safe, and they will protect you and those around you.

Later this week, I will be sharing some preliminary data looking at the impact of vaccines on our case numbers and hospitalizations in Alberta.

However, today, I want to stress how important it is that we all get second doses.

We know that first doses offer good protection against COVID, but two doses offer a significantly higher and longer level of immunity. This is particularly true for protecting against emerging variants like the B.1.617.

I strongly urge everyone to book their second dose as soon as they are eligible.

No matter what vaccine you received for your first dose, we will have a second dose available for you.

I’m told that some Albertans have been concerned about getting a first dose with Moderna vaccine, worried that there may not be supply to get a second dose of the same product.

The good news on this is that while, for the most part, we will give the same vaccine for first and second doses, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has advised that mRNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna can be used interchangeably for second doses, if needed.

Both Moderna and Pfizer are safe and highly effective, so you can be confident you are receiving full protection, whichever vaccine you receive.

Also, as the Minister mentioned, people like myself, who have received AstraZeneca for their first dose can choose either AstraZeneca or an mRNA vaccine for their second dose.

This is in line with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s recommendation, and I want to stress that both AstraZeneca and mRNA vaccines are good options.  Both vaccines will further protect you from severe illness.

Albertans who choose to receive a second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine should know that the risk of blood clots known as VITT after the second dose of AstraZeneca, so far appears to be lower than with the first dose. They also remain extremely rare.

In the UK, among 9 million second doses of AstraZeneca, only 15 VITT cases have been reported so far.

That is one case for every 600,000 doses, which is significantly less than reports after first doses.

That being said, we are in the very fortunate situation where mRNA and AstraZeneca vaccines are both available and there will not be a delay in receiving either vaccine, whatever option you choose.

Both options are valid, and both will count as a complete series in Canada.

There may be some differences in milder side effects after your second dose.

Evidence is still emerging but, based on the UK trial of mixing AstraZeneca and then Pfizer vaccine, it appears people who received a Pfizer dose four weeks after AstraZeneca had more general reactions, such as fever and aches, than those who received two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.

Most symptoms happened in the two days after immunization and symptoms went away on their own. There were no safety signals noted in this trial.

In a study from Spain with AstraZeneca, then Pfizer vaccine after 8 weeks, side effects were mild and also went away on their own.

Whatever vaccine type you choose for your second dose, if your first dose was with AstraZeneca, we recommend that you wait at least 8 weeks before getting the second.

Having an 8 to 12-week wait between first and second doses of this vaccine gives a better overall protection than having a second dose sooner than that.

If you are not sure what option is best for you, please consider talking to a healthcare professional. We’ve also put information on our website about the information on either getting a second dose of AstraZeneca or second dose of mRNA.

Both choices are valid, and both will offer protection against COVID-19.

The key is to sign up for both first and second doses no matter which vaccine you take.

This is the best way to protect yourself, your friends, your family, and the community around you.

Thank you and I’ll now invite Dr. Yiu to provide an update on the contact tracing system.