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Alberta health minister says vaccine schedule to take hit from manufacturing delays

EDMONTON — Alberta's health minister says it will take longer than expected to start immunizing seniors over 75 outside long-term care homes due to a delay in manufacturing one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
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Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro speaks during a news conference in Calgary on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Shandro says it will take longer than expected to start immunizing seniors over 75 against COVID-19 outside of long-term care homes due to a vaccine manufacturing delay. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — Alberta's health minister says it will take longer than expected to start immunizing seniors over 75 outside long-term care homes due to a delay in manufacturing one of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

Tyler Shandro called the news out of Ottawa on Friday a blow and said it's not clear how severely the delay will affect Alberta's vaccine allocation in the coming weeks. 

"This is out of our control, but it will impact Alberta's immunization schedule," he said Friday. 

The schedule for seniors over 75, regardless of where they live, and Indigenous people over 65 is up in the air because it will take longer to immunize priority health-care workers, Shandro said. 

"We had hoped to announce the start of these vaccinations in the coming days, but that is now in question."

Federal officials said earlier in the day that only half of promised Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses will arrive in the next month due to production issues in Belgium. 

"This is unfortunate news and we are all disappointed. However, we will not stop," Shandro said. "Health officials will continue giving out what vaccines we do have as quickly as possible."

Senior medical officer of health Laura McDougall said Alberta is still ramping up its ability to administer vaccines and has been able to deliver more shots than expected so far.

 She said the province has recruited pharmacists, retired health-care workers and nursing students to give out shots and pop-up clinics have been set up in emergency departments to reach more front-line staff. 

"We have enough immunizers and more than enough people wanting to be immunized," McDougall said. "What we need is more vaccine."

Alberta reported 785 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday along with 13 more deaths. There were 796 people in hospital, with 124 of those in intensive care.

More than 74,000 vaccine doses have been given out so far, and the province still aims to administer 50,000 a week by the end of January if there is enough supply. 

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2020.  

The Canadian Press