David Staples: How vaccines are winning the war against the variants in Alberta

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The vaccine is starting to beat the hell out of the pandemic in many regions, including Alberta.

The province has more COVID cases than ever, but we’re getting just one-sixth the rate of COVID deaths.

“That’s absolutely due to the vaccine,” Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, told me in an interview.

“By vaccinating those who are at the highest risk of severe outcomes, we have been able to dramatically lower our death rate, which is great news.”

Vaccines have long been billed as the endgame for the pandemic and lockdown. In Alberta we are still a few moves from checkmate.

In the United Kingdom, the vaccines already captured COVID’s king.

The U.K. had a peak of 1,820 deaths on Jan. 20. It had not one recorded death this past Monday.

Zero deaths for 67.5 million people.

Of course, the British are well ahead of us on vaccinations. On Jan. 20, just seven per cent of people in the U.K. had had a single jab. Today, that number is 52 per cent, Our World In Data reports, with 26 per cent fully vaccinated.


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But Canada is at last making immense progress. On Jan. 9, when Canada’s second wave was most deadly, just one per cent of us had had a single jab. Today that number is 40 per cent.

The vaccine dynamic has played out with Alberta averaging 18 deaths per day during the second wave in December and January. In this third wave, we’re now averaging three deaths per day.

In comparison to other big provinces, Alberta’s most recent two week rate has dropped to 11 deaths per million, close to British Columbia’s 10 deaths per million and below Ontario’s 26 deaths per million.

Alberta has had to scramble to keep up with cases arriving from outside the province and spreading within. In March 2020, during the first wave, 86 per cent of travel cases came from other provinces, 14 per cent from international travel, mostly the United States, Hinshaw said.

In late December and January when the British variant hit, Canada shut its borders to the U.K., with 57 per cent of variant travel cases arriving from other provinces, 43 per cent from other countries, with travel from the Netherlands accounting for 20 per cent.

But the vaccines will trump the variants, just as they did in the U.K.

The federal government has so far delivered 20 million doses to Canadians, but 16 million more doses will arrive before the end of June. A record 270,000 jabs were given in Alberta last week, with 328,000 booked for next week.

Half of all eligible Albertans will have had their first jab by the first week of June, Kenney said, which would put us close to where the U.K. is now in terms of first jabs. By the third week of June, two-thirds of Albertans will have had their first jab.


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“We are in the home stretch now,” Kenney said.

Yes, COVID still sends Albertans to the hospital in high numbers. But the average stay of COVID patients has dropped from about 12 days in the winter peak to six days now. This is because the proportion of over-65 people getting infected is now much lower, dropping from 60 per cent of cases in the second wave to 36 per cent now. While younger people can also have bad outcomes from COVID, Hinshaw said, they need less lengthy hospital stays on average.

It will soon be time to reopen. We’ll be past the mass of COVID deaths and hospitalizations, not to mention the isolation and economic catastrophe of lockdown, as well as the increasingly tedious and idiotic partisan political bickering.

One person keen to see vaccination rates rise is Brian Dell, an Edmonton government worker. Brian’s father Larry died in early February after contracting COVID. Larry was 76 and had dementia, which only got worse during the harsh lockdown at his care home.

Two days before he was to get his vaccine in January, Larry got sick and was moved to the COVID ward. Brian now wonders if his father might have contracted the virus from a staff member who had refused vaccination.

Brian himself isn’t a fan of lockdown measures, all of it adding up to him being strongly pro-vaccination.

“Vaccination isn’t high-cost. It’s not like these other measures, like closing schools and the many other things that make life worth living,” he says.

“People really need to understand that vaccination can help protect other people at little cost to themselves.”

I’ll suggest Dell here hits on an under-rated side effect of the vaccine. It not only protects you, it can make a person feel surprisingly good that they’ve done their bit.


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