Check against delivery.

Thank you, Minister and good afternoon everyone.

While we don’t have the numbers for today available until this afternoon, I would like to talk about Omicron today.

Twice before in this past year, we have faced a new variant, so we have seen what can happen with a new and more infectious version of the virus. Each time, we had reached a relatively successful point in dealing with the previous version of the virus, and each time the new variant meant we needed to change our assumptions and our approach.

We must learn from our past. In the summer, we used early evidence on Delta from a small number of comparator countries combined with forecasting of expected impacts to inform plans to move to an endemic state.

As we all know, that move was too early, and the fourth wave had a devastating impact on our health-care system. I cannot overstate the importance of having learned from that experience, and the need to be extremely cautious as we learn more about the Omicron variant.

Here is what we currently understand about Omicron. We know it is more transmissible. We know it causes more breakthrough infections in those who have previously been infected and in those who have had two doses of vaccine.

As the Premier mentioned early evidence indicates that it might be less likely to cause severe outcomes than previous variants, but with a much larger number of people being infected much more quickly, the overall impact on ICUs is still rising in other parts of the world where Omicron is spreading fast.

Said a different way, even if the risk of each individual case needing ICU care is lower, if the total number of cases is much larger, the total acute care impact would be expected to be significant.

I have heard clearly from many Albertans about the negative impacts the current measures have on people. I know that there is no risk-free option in front of us, and that the impacts of restrictions are real. I also know that we face a very real risk of experiencing a significant fifth wave with this new variant that could be worse than previous waves in terms of overall impact on our health system due to sheer volume of cases. We simply don’t know yet.

No one wants to maintain restrictions for longer than absolutely necessary, but it is also true that no one wants to see our health-care system under the strain it experienced just a few months ago, or worse.

In light of this, while I know this is disappointing, as we make plans for the holiday season, I ask all of us to make decisions thinking about our communities and our health-care system.

Tempting as it may be to make an exception and break the rules, the risk of transmission is just too great – particularly severe outcomes for those who aren’t fully vaccinated.

Our experience through the pandemic has shown us that even with earlier, less transmissible strains of COVID-19, indoor social gatherings have been a leading cause of viral spread.

That’s because in private social gatherings people are more likely to be in close, prolonged contact with those from other households.

We can make our holiday gatherings as safe as possible by limiting the total number of gatherings we attend or host, keeping gatherings small, planning gatherings that can happen outside, and encouraging as many people as possible at the gathering to have received all doses of vaccine that they are eligible for.

With indoor gatherings, some additional options to reduce risk include things like:

  • Asking guests to wear masks when they’re not eating or drinking,
  • Arranging seating during meals to maximize the distance between households,
  • Increasing indoor air ventilation whenever possible,
  • Having guests who are more susceptible to severe outcomes of COVID-19, including those who are older than 65 or who are immune compromised, consider wearing a medical face mask while at the indoor gathering,
  • And of course, ensuring that anyone who is feeling unwell, even if mild symptoms, not attend the gathering.

It’s also critical that if someone hosting is feeling unwell, they need to cancel that gathering. 

As disappointing as this may be, it’s important to help keep our friends and family safe as the holiday season approaches.

I also want to speak about the fact that vaccines remain a vital tool in our fight against COVID-19. To those who have not yet had the protection that first and second doses offer, I ask that you consider doing so as soon as possible.

In addition, the expansion of eligibility for third doses to include anyone 50 or older and all health-care workers is an important step.

This will not only boost protection against the Delta variant that is still circulating, but early evidence also shows that a third dose also increases protection against the Omicron variant. As soon as you are eligible for a third dose, please go and get it.

I also strongly encourage Albertans to take the first vaccine available to them.

On this matter I want to clarify the difference between Pfizer and Moderna.

Both vaccines offer a high level of protection against COVID-19, particularly against severe outcomes.

In fact Moderna shows a slightly higher level of effectiveness when compared with Pfizer.

I’ve spoken before about the increased risk of myocarditis in younger Albertans, especially in males, from Moderna.

To be clear, this small increase does not change the fact that individuals are much more likely to experience myocarditis from COVID-19 infection than the vaccine and the data shows that this risk from vaccine is focused in younger males.

For older individuals, Moderna is an excellent choice and I want to ensure Albertans who are eligible for a booster that this will give you the same, if not slightly increased, protection and is a good choice for all of us.

Going back to booster eligibility, unfortunately, we continue to hear reports from Alberta Health Services and pharmacies about individuals who are attending appointments for third doses before they have reached the six-month period from their second dose.

Because of the importance of waiting that six months to ensure the strongest protection, these people are turned away when they arrive for their appointments and this takes a valuable spot away from someone else who is eligible.

I understand people are eager to get those third doses, but please know that we are going to open up bookings to other age groups as soon as we have the supply to do so, and you won’t have to wait too much longer.

I know that today’s news is not what many people were hoping for as we approach the holiday season, and I know that this season can be very hard when we can’t gather with our family and friends. I ask that all of us think of ways to support each other and show those we love how much they mean to us in this difficult time.

COVID-19 doesn’t play by the rules we wish it did, and we can’t change how it behaves. What we can change is how we respond to the new information we are receiving, and to do everything we can to stop COVID from doing the worst of what it can possibly do.

Thank you and we’re happy to take questions.