Age and chronic health conditions are the two biggest factors driving the second phase of the roll-out of Alberta's vaccine plan, which is set to begin in April.
On Friday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro announced who will be eligible to receive the vaccine in the second phase of the vaccine roll out plan.
Kenney said the province will be looking to Israel for an effective vaccination plan, as the country has managed to vaccinate large swaths of their population quickly. So far, 4 million Israelis – nearly half the population of 9 million – have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and more than 2.6 million have gotten the second dose.
The second phase will be based on age and underlying health conditions, as the goal is to vaccinate vulnerable Albertans quickly.
"With a limited amount of vaccines, we must make difficult choices to ensure that those people who are most at risk are protected first, following the data and the scientific advice," Kenney said.
Phase 2 is slated to start in April and will be broken down into four sub-categories.
Group A will include Albertans aged 65 to 74, no matter where they live, First Nations and Métis people aged 50 to 64 on and off reserve or Métis Settlements, and staff of licensed supportive living facilities not included in Phase 1.
Group B will include Albertans aged 18 to 64 with high-risk underlying health conditions. Shandro said the province is still working to iron out who will qualify for this group, but the minister said they will be taking an evidence-informed approach to vaccinate those who have the highest risk of severe COVID-19 health outcomes.
The third group, Group C, will include residents and staff of eligible congregate living settings, which includes correctional facilities, homeless shelters and group homes, including disability, mental health and other types of licensed supportive living.
Shandro said those living in these settings are more likely to have health conditions and severe outcomes from COVID-19.
"We have already seen evidence how COVID can spread through those settings very rapidly," Shandro said.
Health-care workers providing direct and acute patient care who have a high potential for spread to high-risk individuals and caregivers of Albertans who are most at risk of severe outcomes will also be included in the third group.
The final group in Phase 2, Group D, will be made up of Albertans aged 50 to 64, no matter where they live, and First Nations and Métis people aged 35 to 49.
Indigenous and Métis adults are more likely to have pre-existing chronic health conditions and have a higher likelihood of severe outcomes.
"We have always said we will always protect the most vulnerable Albertans first in our vaccination plan and this is reflected in the lower age cut off for Indigenous people in Alberta," Shandro said.
Both Shandro and Kenney said they would like to vaccinate everyone in the province right now, but with COVID-19 vaccination shortages they have had to make "difficult choices."
“I know everyone wants to return to normal and be safe and protected from the virus," Kenney said.
While looking to Israel for their vaccine roll out plan, Kenney said they won't be creating a bunch of sub-categories to complicate and slow down the vaccine process, but will focus on age and try to get the vaccines out as quickly as possible, aiming for "the most efficient, fastest administration (of vaccines) rather than setting up sub-queues that would just complicate it and slow it down."
Shandro said the most important factor for COVID-19 survival comes down to age.
"We know that the age of a patient is the most important predictor of a severe outcome from COVID-19," he said.
Right now, the province doesn't want to disclose the vaccine plan for later phases of the roll-out because of the unknown factors around vaccines. Kenney said new vaccines may be approved that are more effective on certain age groups or may have certain storage requirements, which would then complicate the plan.
Shandro said the province will be relying on community partners, like family doctors and pharmacists, to vaccinate everyone in Phase 1B and members of Phase 2, but right now it is not known which doctors' offices or pharmacies across the province will be able to carry the vaccine.
These health professionals will need to meet the storage requirements for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines which need to be stored at -20 C and -80 C respectively.
So far the province has administered 155,532 doses of vaccine, with 58,674 Albertans fully immunized with two doses. The province has a vaccination rate of 3,517.3 doses per 100,000.
For more information on vaccines, visit the provincial website.