Ask an expert: A Guide to Alberta's Vaccine Rollout

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For the SUN:

This reader-driven guide to Alberta’s vaccine rollout is part of Groundwork, a pilot project in engagement journalism. Text the word VACCINE to 587-412-2295 and follow the prompts if you have an unanswered question for consideration.

For the JOURNAL:

This reader-driven guide to Alberta’s vaccine rollout is part of Groundwork, a pilot project in engagement journalism. Visit to add your question and sign up for the newsletter to hear the next steps in our focus on Seniors & COVID-19.

Why are some pharmacies booking people for a vaccine early?

Booking for seniors age 65 through 74 is supposed to start Monday online and through 811, beginning with those who are 73 and 74 and moving forward in two-year steps.

But multiple people have written in saying they or their friends have been able to book early by calling a local pharmacy. “Very convenient at our drugstore,” said Donna Begg, who is 71 and now has an appointment for March 22.

Others have been put on a pharmacy waiting list, in which case it might be faster to book directly with AHS.

Currently, 102 pharmacies in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary have gotten about 200 doses each to immunize customers. That list is on the Alberta Blue Cross website. Health officials said next week, 156 additional pharmacies will be added to the list, including in smaller urban areas.


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On Wednesday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was asked why pharmacies are booking early and if there are consequences.

She said pharmacies have been given Pfizer vaccines, which can only be stored at refrigerator temperatures for several days. Albertans 75 and older are encouraged to book at a pharmacy but there are still available appointments.

“It’s critical those doses not be wasted,” she said. That’s why pharmacies have been told, if vaccine is going to expire, they should use it on someone else. “They would naturally go on to that next category in order to not waste that vaccine.”

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said health officials are immunizing 11,000 people a day and plan to continue that rate through March.

What about caregivers and patients at high-risk?

Group 2B will include those at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19 age 18 to 64. But Alberta Health has still not said what chronic diseases will put people on that list, despite the fact people without chronic illness are now invited to book AstraZeneca vaccines.

It’s frustrating for people such as Karen Gibson, caring for her adult son, Zane, with muscular dystrophy. It matters less when she gets access; it matters a lot when he gets access, she said.

It feels like those with chronic illness have been forgotten in Alberta’s decision to focus first on its oldest residents. “Protect our most vulnerable people. I feel like I can’t fight for anything until that’s resolved,” she said. “But there’s no one to talk to. No one’s listening.”


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Group 2C includes caregivers, people living in group homes including those for people with developmental disabilities, and health-care workers in the rest of the supportive care facilities.

It’s not clear who will be accepted as a caregiver. Hinshaw was asked if that’s just the designated essential caregiver in care homes, or if that will include people caring for vulnerable individuals in the community.

Hinshaw said they still working on how to define and validate this group. “Exactly those questions are still being discussed.”

Should you get the vaccine if you already had COVID?

Three out of every 100 Albertans have already tested positive for COVID-19. They might assume that’s just as good as a vaccine, but health experts are recommending they book an appointment anyway.

Natural immunity is not as strong and long-lasting as the immunity given by a vaccine, said University of Alberta infectious disease expert Dr. Lynora Saxinger. “Natural immunity can wane and it’s safer to get the vaccine,” she said, at least one dose to act as a booster.

In addition, there are early suggestions the vaccine can help the so-called long-haulers. These are people who continue to have symptoms such as muscle weakness, fatigue, a racing heart or brain fog months after an infection.

One study in Wuhan on patients hospitalized with COVID-19 found 76 per cent had at least one symptom six months later, and an analysis of medical records in California found this can even affect people who had no symptoms during the initial infection.

But some American patient support groups are now starting to report the vaccine helps. More research is needed but it sounds promising, said Saxinger.


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