COVID-19: Alberta reports 1,516 new infections as Hinshaw aims to calm fears over AstraZeneca vaccine

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As COVID-19 infections continue to rise to levels not seen since December, the province’s top doctor is stressing that a single Alberta AstraZeneca-related blood clot case should not be cause to reject vaccination if available.

The province reported 1,516 new infections on Sunday, bringing the total number of active cases to 17,935. These are similar numbers to what the province experienced in December, which peaked at 20,972 active cases on Dec. 13.

There are 451 people in hospital, with 103 of those in intensive care. The last time that intensive care numbers surpassed 100 was on Jan. 29. Three additional deaths raised the death toll to 2,040.

The province also reported 800 new cases of variants of concern, which now make up 54.5 per cent of all active cases.

More than 1.1 million doses of vaccine have been administered as of Saturday.

On Saturday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw confirmed Canada’s second case of a blood clot linked to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

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Hinshaw said a case of the rare blood clot disorder, known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), was confirmed in a man in his 60s. He is receiving treatment and recovering, and in order to protect patient confidentiality, no further details are available.

Hinshaw said the province is taking this extremely seriously, but the risk assessment has not changed and she continues to encourage Albertans who are eligible to take the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“These blood clots remain extremely rare and anyone who was aged 55 and older faces much higher risks for COVID-19 infection than from this vaccine,” she said.

The Alberta case marks the second case of VITT in Canada out of more than 700,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that have been administered to date.

“Global frequency of VITT has been estimated at approximately one case in every 100,000 to 250,000 doses of vaccine,” Hinshaw said.

“By comparison, Albertans 55 and older who are diagnosed with COVID-19, have a one in 200 chance of dying from that infection. They are also at least 1,500 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than experience VITT after getting AstraZeneca.”

AstraZeneca is currently being offered to Albertans 55 years and older.

Meanwhile, the British Columbia government announced on Sunday that all adults, 18 years and over, could register for a vaccine starting this week.

The registration schedule is age-based starting with 40 years old and up on Monday and ending with 18 and up on Friday.

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B.C.’s announcement follows comments made by federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu during a Sunday news conference where she said provinces and territories “are free to use AstraZeneca” in any age group.

“The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) provides recommendations based on the current evidence and evolves their advice as new evidence as comes in,” she said. “They are reviewing AstraZeneca advice now and will have an update in the near future.”

Alberta Health spokeswoman Sherene Khaw said in an email Hinshaw is working with counterparts and NACI to consider options to expand eligibility for AstraZeneca. She said any changes will be announced to Albertans.

— With files from Anna Junker

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