Checked against delivery

Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon, everyone.

I’m pleased to be back to provide an update on COVID-19. As the Minister mentioned, the numbers we are sharing were updated online, and are from the reporting period Tuesday, March 29th to Monday, April 4th.

In those seven days, our PCR test positivity rate ranged from 24 per cent to 32 per cent. As the Minister mentioned, this leading indicator is trending moderately upwards, as is the wastewater data.

There are currently 990 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 44 in the ICU.

Sadly, between March 29th and April 4th, an average of just over 4 deaths per day related to COVID-19 were reported to Alberta Health.

My condolences go to the loved ones of these Albertans and to anyone who has recently lost a loved one recently no matter the cause.

These deaths and our leading indicators remind us that COVID-19 is very much still with us.

Transitioning to an endemic state does not mean the virus has disappeared, but rather, we have tools to protect ourselves, allowing us to adjust to living with it. 

Part of living with it is continuing to adapt to emerging evidence. Research is revealing more about COVID-19 every day.

As the Minister has announced, in alignment with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Alberta will soon offer fourth doses to those 70 and older, to First Nations, Metis and Inuit people 65 and older, and to residents of long-term care and other congregate senior settings.

Immunity in older seniors begins to wane after five to six months.

This makes sense, because as we age, our immune systems can slow to respond to challenges, and leave us less able to maintain long-term immunity.

Residents of seniors congregate care sites are also at an increased risk given their living arrangements.

This group was also among the first to receive their third doses of vaccine or first boosters of vaccine, roughly six to seven months ago.

This puts them squarely in the timeframe where the data indicates they are well served by an additional dose.

I know that there are many Albertans who have asked why we don’t simply offer fourth doses to everyone who wants one.

As with any medical intervention, whether it be the COVID-19 vaccine, a flu shot or an antibiotic, dosages and intervals are set to ensure optimal benefit.

We continue to monitor the real world evidence of COVID-19, and will continue to adjust additional dose eligibility in alignment with the data.

This will ensure Albertans get the best protection from severe outcomes for the longest period of time.

As the Minister mentioned, today we have also expanded the eligibility for Paxlovid to include more Albertans.

While it is a useful tool in preventing severe outcomes, Paxlovid may have interactions with common drugs, and does have its own risks that need to be considered.

Which is why Albertans who are eligible must contact Health Link for further assessment, to weigh the pros and cons for treatment, before making the best decision for their individual context.

I believe it is important to stress again that there is no available treatment for COVID-19 is an adequate replacement for vaccination.

While it’s good news that we are able to offer Paxlovid to more people, I encourage those with significant risk factors to not rely only upon it.

Vaccination remains our best defence against the virus.

And, as the Minister has announced, there is an additional vaccine option now available in Alberta.

Novavax is a two-dose protein subunit vaccine, using the same technology as many other widely used vaccines such as that against Hepatitis B vaccine.

This vaccine does not use the mRNA technology Pfizer or Moderna utilizes and is different from viral vector vaccines like Janssen and AstraZeneca.

Novavax provides good protection against severe outcomes and is one more tool available to us for those who have a contraindication to mRNA vaccines, or who prefer another option.

I would also like to report that children age six to 11 now have another vaccine choice as well.

While the use of Pfizer pediatric vaccine is preferred to Moderna to start or complete a child’s immunization, for those interested in another option, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is now available, in alignment with the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Parents who wish to choose the Moderna vaccine for their child can book appointments beginning next Tuesday by calling 811.

If you have questions about what is suitable for your child, please speak to your family physician or pediatrician.

Whether someone is 6 or 96, it’s never too late to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

So if you or someone you care about has been waiting for another vaccine option, I encourage you to speak to a health care professional about these new options.

Given the transmissibility of BA.2 and the upward trend in our leading indicators, we can expect to see a further increase in COVID-19 cases in the coming days and weeks.

I encourage every Albertan to keep this in mind as we go about our routines and activities in the days ahead.

I encourage you to pick up free rapid tests at your local pharmacy and keep them on hand if you or someone in your household develops symptoms.

For those who want to apply an extra level of caution, using rapid tests as screening tests three times per week can detect early infection and prevent onward spread.

Ensure you and your loved ones, particularly those with any risk factors for severe outcomes, have received every vaccine dose you’re eligible for to help boost your protection as transmission and exposure risk rises.  

Also, we all need to stay home if we have any symptoms or have tested positive.

We need to make decisions that best fit your risk factors, risk tolerance and comfort level.

Mask use in crowded public spaces is a very prudent measure for all of us to take right now.

For those with higher risk of severe outcomes, it may be wise at this time to opt for outdoor social visits or to consider what extra layers of protection are needed when going out in public.

These small actions can have a big impact on community transmission and our individual risks.

Living with COVID means finding the right balance as we navigate this transition together.

Thank you, and we’re happy to take questions.