More than 300 health workers and doctors in central zone had their first COVID-19 shot by Christmas Eve.
The first Red Deer health staff started getting the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday, among them anesthesiologist and intensive care unit (ICU) physician Dr. Eduard Barnard.
“There have been a lot of challenges I never thought I would have experienced in my lifetime (due to COVID),” said Barnard, who works at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
“Back when I was studying medicine, we thought we had all infectious disease under control. For this to be approved in one year’s time, when previous vaccines took decades to develop, is thanks to the ingenuity of the researchers.
“It’s just like the whole world has gotten together,” said Barnard, adding that the top scientists worked together to “find the best possible solution to this world phenomenon.”
Alberta Health Services (AHS) said the vaccine rollout is happening in phases and is expected to take several months to complete.
In central zone, about 313 staff and physicians were expected to have received the vaccine as of 3 p.m. Thursday.
“Staff and physicians identified for immunization during this preliminary phase have been selected based on their level of interaction with individuals that are COVID-19 positive, their risk of transmission from COVID-19 positive cases, as well as their role on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response,” says AHS.
Alberta received a batch of 25,350 Pfizer vaccine doses this week — 1,950 of which are earmarked for Red Deer.
The first phase of vaccine rollout focuses on respiratory therapists, intensive care physicians and staff, and long-term care and designated supportive living facility workers across Alberta.
While it has been strongly recommended that healthcare workers get the vaccine when offered, immunization remains voluntary.
AHS is working to triage vaccine supply as it becomes available. The supply will be relatively limited in December with more regular allotments expected next month and in the months following.
As of Thursday, there were 12 patients in Red Deer hospital’s ICU, including eight COVID patients.
Red Deer’s ICU and coronary care unit have 18 beds, and can expand to 20 beds if necessary.
AHS says there are contingency plans in place across the province to ensure beds — including ICU spaces — are available for COVID patients.
In coming weeks, about 2,250 acute care beds, and 425 ICU beds will be allocated for COVID patients province-wide. So far Red Deer is managing with existing beds, while making plans to expand capacity across central zone as needed.
“We are balancing that approach with maintaining as much non COVID-related health care services as possible, such as scheduled surgeries and ambulatory care services,” says AHS.
ICU occupancy remains high across the province and Albertans are urged to follow the health guidelines outlined by chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. Those include a ban on indoor and outdoor gatherings.
AHS also reminds people that if they experience potentially serious health issues, such as chest pain, to go to the emergency department.
“We understand some people may be anxious to visit an emergency department. However, our hospitals and emergency departments remain a safe place to come and to receive care – there is no increased risk to patients coming to hospital.”