Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom and good afternoon everyone.

I’m sorry to let you know that we were not able to have our sign language interpreters with us today.

They will be back for future updates as we know that they provide an important service that many people rely on.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 402 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 10,400 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at about 3.9%.

There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 227 schools, or about 9.3% of the schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 872 cases since January 11th.

There are currently 251 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 48 in the ICU.

Sadly, I must announce that 12 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.  

My condolences go to those mourning the loss of a loved one and to anyone who has lost a loved one from any cause.

Please know you are not alone and there is help to support you through this difficult time.

Today I would also like to update you on the first continuing care outbreak in Alberta containing variant cases.  

This outbreak was identified late on Friday at Churchill Manor in Edmonton with a single case. Since then 27 staff and residents have tested positive.

This includes 19 cases which have been confirmed as positive for the variant.

Local public health teams and the operator are taking this outbreak extremely seriously and working closely together to limit spread and protect everyone involved.

Last week, before this outbreak started, we implemented mandatory new protocols that are being followed.

These created new, stronger measures for when a variant case is identified in any supportive living, long term care or hospice site.

A combination of enhanced lab testing and rapid screening is being used to add to infection control protocols that are in place.

Staff working at an outbreak site must not work at any other workplace for the duration of the outbreak and anyone entering the facility will be required to wear a mask and eye protection continuously.

I know that any outbreak is concerning, and AHS and the operator are working hard to prevent further spread and protect the health of everyone involved.

Today, I’d like to update Albertans on a change to our vaccine program.

As you know, Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Canada last week, which means we now have three safe, effective vaccines to help us in our fight against COVID-19.

What’s clear is that all 3 of these vaccines reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 and prevent serious outcomes, including hospitalization and death.

We are still working to confirm exactly how many doses we will receive and when they will arrive.

We hope to update you soon on how these vaccines will be distributed here in Alberta.

Today, I am also announcing that Alberta is joining other provinces in adopting the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommendation to extend the period between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with a goal of providing first doses to all Albertans as soon as possible.

We have now administered approximately 255,280 doses of vaccine in the province.

More than 89,000 Albertans are now fully immunized with 2 doses.

In the last week alone, we have administered almost 20,000 doses of vaccine. This is great news for our most vulnerable Albertans and those who care for them.

In order to provide this protection opportunity to as many Albertans as possible as quickly as possible, starting March 10, anyone who books a first dose of vaccine will have their second dose timeline extended to up to 4 months.

For those who already have a second dose appointment booked, it will go ahead as scheduled, and anyone who books their appointment before March 10 will still be able to book a second appointment within the 42-day window.

From March 10th going forward, people who book vaccinations will only be able to book their first appointment, and they will then receive a reminder at a later date to book a second dose.

The evidence on COVID-19 is constantly evolving, and it is critical that we use the most up-to-date information as we refine our approach.

We’ve seen research from other jurisdictions that indicate one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine offers a huge boost in immunity, with Canadian data indicating around 80% protection against infection after the first dose.

Data from the UK just released this week show 70% effectiveness from a single dose of Pfizer that stayed at a stable level over several months.

This change will significantly increase how quickly we can offer Albertans the protection of their first dose.

The more people that we can offer this protection to in the coming weeks and months, the more effective we will be at stopping spread.

At the same time, second doses are still important and we are recommending that every Albertan receive one within the 16-week window in order to provide long-lasting protection.

This change is about providing the most benefit to the most people, based on evidence that we have seen from around the world.

We will continue to use the best available evidence to adjust our vaccination plan to protect Albertans, reflecting the real-time research being done.

Of course, our roll-out plan is dependent upon the supply of vaccine arriving in Canada and Alberta, and we will make any necessary adjustments as more information is available on vaccine shipments.  

Finally, I would like to remind anyone who is booking an immunization to please only book one appointment, either with AHS or with a participating pharmacy.

Each time that you book an appointment for the vaccine, pharmacies or AHS are reserving a dose for you, and saving a spot that otherwise could go to others.

If you are booking and canceling multiple appointments at various locations, you are putting another Albertans’ dose at risk or delaying other people the chance to be immunized.

If you are eligible and still haven’t booked your appointment, there is time.

There are still spaces available for Albertans 75 and older to book their first doses, especially at participating pharmacies.

If you were born in 1946 or before and live in or near Edmonton, Red Deer or Calgary, please don’t hesitate to contact the participating pharmacy that is closest to you, to book an appointment. You can find a list of participating pharmacies on the Alberta Blue Cross website.

AHS also has vaccine appointments available for this age group across the province, and you can go online or call 811 to book your shot.

We can all take heart that by getting more first doses to Albertans, more quickly, the change I am announcing today brings the light at the end of the tunnel nearer. We are making progress, but we must all keep following the health measures in place for a little while longer.

By continuing to make decisions that keep our community safe, and by continuing to go that extra mile, we will be able to keep ourselves and each other safe until it’s our turn to roll up our sleeve and get vaccinated.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.