Canada's vaccination laggard: Alberta trails nation with slow uptake for 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccines

·3 min read
Alberta is lagging behind other provinces when it comes to first-dose vaccination rates — but the reasons for that could be multi-faceted. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Alberta is lagging behind other provinces when it comes to first-dose vaccination rates — but the reasons for that could be multi-faceted. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Alberta first-dose vaccination rates are lagging behind other provinces, a reality described as complicated, frustrating but not insurmountable.

According to aggregate data compiled by CBC News, 75.2 per cent of Alberta's eligible population had received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of July 27. The national average is 80.6 per cent.

The picture is brighter when it comes to eligible residents who are fully vaccinated: Alberta's 63.6 per cent is in step with the national average and ahead of B.C., Quebec, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

An Alberta Health spokesperson says the pace of vaccinations has slowed both in Alberta and across Canada, but he maintains interest is strong.

"With more than 230,000 vaccine appointments already booked for the next two weeks, our vaccine rates will keep rising in the days ahead," Tom McMillan said in an email Friday.

Efforts to drive up numbers include advertising campaigns as well as temporary, mobile and drive-thru clinics. A mobile vaccine bus was launched last week to rural visit communities and worksites, he said.

"Health officials are also meeting with local community leaders to encourage vaccinations and discuss other ways that we can get more Albertans vaccinated," McMillan said.

High vaccine hesitancy

An Angus Reid Institute poll released this month found that one in five Albertans — twice the national average — are disinclined to get a shot.

"It's not entirely surprising but it is still very frustrating," said Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy.

"A lot's going on in Alberta, of course — it's very complicated."

Caulfield said North American research shows individuals with a conservative political orientation are more likely to be vaccine-hesitant.

Other factors could include complacency brought about by Alberta's reopening and the likelihood of rural communities being under-vaccinated, he said.

For example, High Level, a town in northeast Alberta, trails every other area with just 21.8 per cent of its eligible residents vaccinated. Other rural areas are under 40 per cent.

Some parts of Alberta have historically had low vaccination uptake, said Lars Hallstrom, director of the University of Lethbridge's Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy.

Smaller communities didn't experience waves of COVID-19 seen in Alberta's cities, but political orientation also plays a part, he said. Rural areas tend to have a more conservative or libertarian disposition, compounded by suspicions about the federal government.

But Alberta's rural-urban divide is not unique and is only one piece of the puzzle.

"What is at the heart of this is the complexity of this, is the variety of variables that can come into play," he said.

"It's going to be really, really difficult in this province to continue to move the numbers up because there's no one fix for all."

Youth demographics

Age is another piece.

Alberta is home to Canada's youngest population, with a 2020 report citing a median age of 37.5 years.

Many provinces are seeing lower uptake for COVID-19 vaccines among people younger than 35, with the rate of first doses hovering around the low 60s.

Among Albertans aged 25 to 29, just 61.5 per cent had received one shot as of July 27, according to Alberta Health.

Social media channels frequented by younger demographics have been a primary carrier of misinformation — including the idea that young, healthy people won't get as sick so they don't need it, Caulfield said.

But he added there's a more altruistic reason to get vaccinated.

"It's something you do for your community," he said. "And I think that's the message this demographic needs to hear."

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