Check against delivery.

Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon everyone.

Before I get to today’s update, I’d like to address some confusion around the public health measures for youth sport and recreation activities.

We know that physical activity is critically important for the overall health and well-being of youth, and necessary to daily living.

Which is why youth sport and recreation activities are out of scope for the Restrictions Exemption Program.

Some facilities that serve both adults and youth are requiring proof of vaccination for those under 18.

Operators do have the ability to set rules that exceed the minimum requirements in the CMOH orders, and I support providing everyone age 12 and older with the protection that vaccine offers.

At the same time, I encourage facility operators to consider what opportunities you have to allow all youth under 18 to use your facilities whenever possible, with other COVID precautions in place.

I would also like to remind everyone that masking in all indoor public spaces is mandatory in all parts of the province, even in those businesses that have implemented the REP.

This is a critical time for our province’s health-care system. Wearing a mask is a small but important step that will help protect you and everyone around you.

As I said last week, each health measure is another layer that, when combined, work together to help reduce transmission and protect the health system that is facing severe challenges right now.

Please, get vaccinated. This is a critical layer of protection. And please continue to follow the health measures in place so we can drive cases down and stop the spike in hospitalizations.

Turning to today’s numbers.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified about 1,500 cases of COVID-19, and completed about 13,600 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at 11.1%.

We have identified 2,011 additional cases of variants of concern in the last 24 hours.

There are now 996 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 222 in the ICU.

Sadly, I must announce that 29 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.

Some of these individuals were double vaccinated, and had pre-existing health conditions that compromised their immune systems, but most were not vaccinated at all.

These numbers could have been very different, and that makes these losses even harder for those who are left behind.

Our actions every day are literally a matter of life and death, and should be treated as such.

Staying home when sick, following public health rules and getting immunized are life-saving actions, full stop.

My deepest sympathies go out today to everyone who is grieving a loss from any cause, whether COVID or anything else.

Today, I would like to announce a small expansion of who can get a third dose of vaccine, and answer a recurring question that we’ve heard from parents whose children, like mine, are under 12.

It’s amazing to think that we’ve had vaccines available in Alberta for less than a year. We are closely watching emerging evidence on how vaccines and new variants interact over time, and we continue to refine our approach based on the best currently available information.

Recently, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that individuals with moderate to severely immunocompromising conditions should receive additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

This is based on research that shows these individuals aren’t protected as well as others with the normal two doses of vaccine, but can improve their protection with a third dose.

Here in Alberta, we are already offering additional doses of vaccine to immunosuppressed Albertans — including transplant recipients, those currently receiving active cancer treatment, those with chronic kidney disease undergoing regular dialysis, and those taking certain medications for auto-immune diseases.

The NACI recommendations include a few health conditions that were not previously covered in Alberta, so we are adjusting our program to align with the national recommendations.

This means that anyone with the following conditions is also eligible to receive third dose:

  • individuals undergoing CAR-T therapy,
  • those using high-dose steroids and other immunosuppressant drugs,
  • those with Stage 3 or advanced HIV infection,
  • and individuals with genetic immunodeficiency syndromes.

We are now including these individuals because their conditions make it harder for them to develop and sustain the same levels of long-lasting immunity. These booster doses will help to better protect them, especially with our current high case rates.

Having said that, even after a third dose, some people remain vulnerable because of their medical conditions. To protect them, all of us can do our part by getting both doses of vaccine.

To be clear, right now, individuals who have these health conditions and seniors in congregate care facilities are the only groups to whom we are offering third doses, or booster shots for clinical reasons.

If you are not in these groups, please know that we are continuing to follow the research and emerging evidence.

I know some countries have moved to recommend additional doses for other groups, and it’s important to remember that each country has a different context when it comes to the types of vaccines used, intervals between first and second doses, and other factors unique to those settings.

As always, we will adapt as new evidence emerges and we are watching the evidence on booster doses very closely.

On a related note, I know that many parents with young children are eagerly wondering when vaccines will be available.

Right now, there are no vaccines approved by Health Canada for use in those between the ages of 5 and 12. There are no vaccines for under 5 as well.

However, as we speak, global studies are underway looking into whether we can offer vaccines to those under 12 as well. 

Our goal is to provide protection to as many Albertans as possible, as safely as possible.

We will not offer vaccines to younger people until the studies on vaccines in younger age groups are completed and evaluated.

At the same time, we have a system in place to move quickly to offer vaccine to additional age groups if vaccine is approved by Health Canada and recommended by the National Advisory Committee.

Until that day comes, we all need to remember that younger children rely on us to protect them.  

Together, we are building a protective shield around those for whom the vaccine is not yet available, and for those with health conditions that make them uniquely vulnerable.

This is why we can all do our part now by being vaccinated if we haven’t already, and reducing the spread of COVID-19 by limiting our contact with those outside our household as much as possible.

These measures work, but it takes all of us making safe choices every day to do our part.

Thank you and we are happy to take questions.