EDMONTON — Alberta's government says those who are 60 years and older can book appointments for a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot starting today (Thursday) if it has been six months after receiving their second dose.
First appointments for the booster jab will be available starting Monday.
Health Minister Jason Copping made the announcement as the province identified two more cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant that has been detected in four Canadian provinces. Alberta now has three known cases in total of the new variant.
"In terms of what the uptake is going to be [of the booster shot], we'll have to wait and see, but I'm very pleased that we're heading to almost 90 per cent on first doses," Copping said Wednesday.
"We're also working on a strategy to provide more information to deal with those who are vaccine-hesitant at this point."
About 373,000 Albertans who were already eligible for a booster shot — including those over 70; long-term care residents; front-line health-care workers; First Nations; and the immunocompromised — have already received their third dose, Copping said.
He added Albertans who are 18 and older will be eligible for a booster shot early next year.
Alberta reported 430 new infections and seven deaths.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical health officer, urged those who are eligible to get a third shot.
"For more than a year now, researchers and public-health officials worldwide have been gathering and assessing data to learn more about vaccine effectiveness," she said.
"Fortunately, the protection against severe disease and hospitalization remains high even after two doses for most individuals, but those who are older and those with chronic conditions have a greater risk of severe outcomes if they have breakthrough infections."
Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for use as boosters for all adults.
Saskatchewan and New Brunswick recently lowered the age requirement to get a third dose to 65. Those living in Yukon can get a booster shot if they are 50 and older. Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut allow third doses for anyone over 18.
Hinshaw said the biggest challenge ahead is making sure the province has enough inventory for all three doses.
"We aren't clear how quickly we'll be able to access vaccine and also what the uptake will be like," she said.
"I would say that for those who would be approaching their six-month anniversary in the next month or so, there's a possibility that they could get it right at that six-month date. However, it is possible to have to wait a few weeks longer."
Earlier in the day, Premier Jason Kenney said the United Conservative government will provide up to $81.2 million to four groups developing and manufacturing vaccines in the province that fight viruses such as COVID-19.
More than half of the money is to go to the University of Alberta's Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology.
A portion of the provincial grants will be contingent on the groups securing financial support from the federal government.
Kenney said the funding will also help to diversify Alberta's economy.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press