Check against delivery.
Thank you, Minister and good afternoon everyone.
I want to begin today by thanking everyone who participated in last night’s telephone town hall on pediatric COVID-19 vaccines.
There was a great turnout and strong engagement from participants, and I am grateful to my colleagues Dr. Jim Kellner, Dr. Cora Constantinescu and Dr. Cheri Nijssen-Jordan who shared their expertise and insights.
A recording of last night’s town hall is now available at alberta.ca/townhall.
Turning to today’s update…
Over the last 24 hours, we identified 430 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 10,800 tests. Our positivity rate is 4.1 per cent.
There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 147 schools.
Eight of these schools have had 10 or more cases infectious in the school in the last 14 days.
Our hospitalizations are slowly declining over time. There are currently 424 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 79 in the ICU.
Having said that, it is important to note that these numbers are still very high, and current ICU COVID numbers are double the peak of ICU impact from an average influenza season.
Sadly, seven new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health in the past 24 hours.
I send my condolences to the people grieving the loss of these Albertans and anyone else who has died. I know their passing leaves a hole in their communities and their families.
As part of my update today, I have additional information to share about Omicron cases in Alberta. We have identified an additional two cases in a recently returned traveller from South Africa and the Netherlands, and a household contact.
As with the case I spoke about yesterday, these individuals have done nothing wrong and should not be stigmatized. They are isolating, and all appropriate public health follow-up is underway. To date, only mild symptoms have been reported and these individuals are recovering at home.
As with the case we identified yesterday, this is not unexpected and it is a testament to the excellent work of our public health lab and front-line public health teams.
We will identify travel-related cases going forward, and this is the purpose of our measures – to prevent transmission risk from importations and slow any spread.
It is also a reminder of the importance of following all current public health measures, including border restrictions, to minimize the risk of COVID-19 importations and transmission.
Today’s announcement on the expansion of our vaccination program is another important milestone in the pandemic response.
My team and I, along with the Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization, and our national counterparts, continue to monitor the latest evidence on vaccine effectiveness, viral spread and emerging variants of concern, including Omicron.
A month ago, when we announced booster doses for those with an increased risk of waning vaccine protection and an increased risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, there wasn’t evidence that conclusively supported the need for boosters in the general population.
Since then, more evidence has become available and we will be soon be approaching the six-month milestone from when the vast majority of adult Albertans received their second dose.
For more than a year now, researchers and public health officials worldwide have been gathering and assessing data to learn more about vaccine effectiveness over time and how that might be different for people of different ages and with different risk factors.
We have been collecting and analyzing our own data in Alberta, as well.
Fortunately, the protection against severe disease and hospitalization remains high even after 2 doses for most individuals, but those who are older and those with chronic conditions have a greater risk of severe outcomes if they have breakthrough infection.
Because of this, and given the fact that increased transmission risk in the winter months is lining up with some waning vaccine effectiveness against infection over time, the current evidence supports expanding booster doses to add an additional layer of protection.
We still have many people in our communities who have no protection, so offering third doses to more people will be one additional measure to help boost population protection and minimize the spread of COVID-19 going forward.
As the Health Minister said, the timing of this expansion should line up well with the six-month markers for the vast majority of fully-vaccinated adult Albertans.
Most individuals, outside the high-risk groups prioritized for earlier third doses, received their second doses in June and July, which means they will be eligible for third doses in December and January.
This expansion is also in line with the Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization’s discretionary recommendation that all Albertans 18 years of age and older be offered a booster dose at six months after completion of their series.
Whether you are eligible for a first, second or third dose, I urge you to get vaccinated as soon as you can to improve your protection against COVID-19, both for yourself and those around you.
If you’re still deciding about the COVID-19 vaccine for your young child aged five to 11, I encourage you to listen to last night’s town hall recording or speak with a medical professional who can answer your questions and provide you with accurate information as you consider your options.
On the topic of pediatric vaccines, I also want to address a very concerning trend.
We are hearing reports that some parents are withdrawing their consent for all vaccines at schools because they’re worried that their child may receive a COVID-19 vaccine without their knowledge.
I want to be crystal clear that no child will receive any vaccine in school without their parent or guardian’s consent and knowledge.
Parents can be confident that if they have consented to their child receiving routine immunizations, this is the only vaccine their child will receive at school. Parents have the final say on all types of vaccine for their children.
It is critical that children continue to receive their standard immunizations to help protect them from diseases like measles, Hepatitis B, human papillomavirus, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
Even in the middle of the pandemic, these diseases and other viruses, like seasonal influenza, continue to pose a potential risk and we must do everything we can to minimize them.
This includes getting the flu vaccine that is widely available for all Albertans 6 months of age and older.
For anyone age 5 and older, influenza vaccine is readily available at a pharmacy near you.
For those under 5 and their families, influenza vaccine can be accessed through Alberta Health Services. I encourage all of us to take advantage of the protection this vaccine offers.
Thank you and we’re happy to take questions.