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Alberta doctors levy criticism over province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Click to play video 'Alberta doctors critical of COVID-19 vaccine rollout' Alberta doctors critical of COVID-19 vaccine rollout
Some Alberta doctors are levying criticism at the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the province. Julia Wong reports. – Jan 4, 2021

Editor’s note: In the original version of this story, Dr. Gibney said vaccinations would need to hover around 30,000 people a week between now and the end of August. He later said he misspoke and intended to say it should be 30,000 vaccinations a day. This change is now reflected in the story.

Close to 23,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta as of Jan. 3, but some Alberta doctors have concerns over the province’s vaccine rollout.

Initially, the province aimed to give out 29,000 doses of vaccine by the end of 2020; instead, it ended the year with 14,244 doses administered.

The province has received roughly 46,000 doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna.

READ MORE: Alberta receives 16,900 doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

“The 29,000 haven’t been used up yet. Why is it we can’t vaccinate as fast as other jurisdictions? Why is it that Israel already has 1 million people vaccinated, more than just the health-care workers?” asked Edmonton pediatrician Dr. Raphael Sharon.

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Sharon said there has been a lack of information provided to Albertans about the vaccine distribution process, such as why certain health-care workers have not received dates for their vaccination and the frequency of immunizations.

Click to play video 'Alberta rolls out more COVID-19 vaccine after initially holding back some for 2nd doses' Alberta rolls out more COVID-19 vaccine after initially holding back some for 2nd doses
Alberta rolls out more COVID-19 vaccine after initially holding back some for 2nd doses – Dec 29, 2020

“What is the plan in terms of rolling this out? Are we going to administer 24/7? If we are not, why are we not?

“Are we going to use family doctors to administer these vaccines who already have a system in place to administer yearly vaccines?” Sharon said.

“We’re not getting the vaccines in the arms. We need them in the arms and not the refrigerators.”

There is urgency to getting more people vaccinated, according to Sharon.

Read more: No evidence coronavirus vaccine will work if second shot comes too late: Pfizer-BioNTech

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“We are having more and more people contract COVID-19 and unfortunately also have more people hospitalized, in ICU and die from COVID,” he said.

“The health-care system, which his already on huge demand and overflowing with pressure and lack of beds, will be broken I think.

“I don’t know that we can continue to have space for all these people.”

The sentiments are echoed by Dr. Noel Gibney, a professor emeritus in the department of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Alberta.

Gibney said the province should have met its goal of 29,000 doses by the end of 2020 if only to prove that it could reach that benchmark.

“It is vital to get this vaccine out into our frontline workers and into our vulnerable communities as quickly as possible.

“It really doesn’t make any sense to have this staying in the fridge,” he said.

READ MORE: AHS ‘actively recruiting’ more staff to help with COVID-19 immunization

Gibney, who said Canada as a whole is not faring well with its vaccination progress, said there’s concern if more Albertans are not vaccinated.

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The province’s current plan would see the general public start to get immunized in the fall.

Read more: Canada’s ‘slow’ rollout of coronavirus vaccine ’embarrassing’: experts

“There’s real risk of another wave that could come when people go back to school, college, back to work, indoors… probably next October, of another wave of COVID hitting with all the associated illness but also the risk of more economic damage,” he said.

“It’s very important that we aim to have the province vaccinated by ideally Labour Day and certainly no later than the end of September 2021.”

To do that, Gibney said vaccinations would need to hover around 30,000 people a day between now and the end of August.

Click to play video 'Alberta missed COVID-19 vaccination goal but is picking up the pace: Kenney' Alberta missed COVID-19 vaccination goal but is picking up the pace: Kenney
Alberta missed COVID-19 vaccination goal but is picking up the pace: Kenney – Dec 30, 2020

Last week, Kenney had said the province was behind on its pacing goals on the vaccine release.

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“There is, at this point, really nothing more important than getting as many people vaccinated as we possibly can, particularly in the vulnerable elements of Alberta’s population,” Kenney said on Jan. 1.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Alberta’s vaccination pace ‘significantly’ increasing, 1,300 estimated new cases Friday

He also added that the province is “on the way” to a reaching a pace of 4,000 new vaccinations a day.

The COVID-19 Tracker website is keeping a tally of vaccine distribution in each province and territory as well as distribution per capita.

READ MORE: COVID-19 death toll in Alberta surpasses 1,000; 1st case of U.K. variant identified

Founder Noah Little, who is a third-year biomedical neuroscience student at the University of Saskatchewan, said it is important to track the numbers to hold governments accountable.

Click to play video 'Different countries take different approaches to rolling out COVID-19 vaccine' Different countries take different approaches to rolling out COVID-19 vaccine
Different countries take different approaches to rolling out COVID-19 vaccine – Dec 29, 2020

“Alberta started off quite slow compared to the other provinces… I know they were planning to move to around 3,000 doses a day – that would bring them quite a bit above average compared to other provinces,” he said.

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Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said, right now, there is limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines and the province is starting with the most vulnerable and those health-care staff who work with them.

“We will provide more information in the coming days,” McMillan said in a statement.

with files from Allison Bench