Alberta’s health minister is placing blame on the federal government and vaccine shortages for the lack of detail that has been released about Phase 2 of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but one professor said that is not an excuse.
Phase 2 of the rollout will target populations at risk, however that has not been defined by the provincial government. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said earlier this month that those details would be released in the coming weeks.
At an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro was asked why it was taking so long for Alberta Health to make decisions about Phase 2, and which groups would be included. Other provinces, such as B.C., have released more detailed plans.
Shandro said the federal government has not provided the province with certainty about how many vaccines Alberta will receive and when it will receive them, and that has an impact on the specifics of Phase 2.
“For us to be able to look at a Phase 2 plan… and how we decide who is the most vulnerable and how we’re going to make those decisions, we have to understand what the delivery schedule is going to be for those vaccines so we can make those decisions,” he said.
“If we make a decision based on an occupation, based on age, based on vulnerability to severe outcomes with COVID, we have to look at how many of those Albertans would be included in those groups and how many vaccines we would be getting in any given week in February, March, April – that certainty, we have not been provided.”
Shandro then doubled down on his comments towards the federal government when asked why priorities for vaccine have not been set over the last 10 months of the pandemic.
He said the province has released plans about Phase 1B, which will include Albertans 75 and older and those living on First Nations reserves who are 65 and older.
“Absolutely we’ve thought about that. Absolutely we’ve made those considerations.
Lorian Hardcastle, who specializes in health law and policy at the University of Calgary, said she does not see the basis for Shandro’s argument.
“There’s absolutely no reason the government can’t make a list of who will be in the next priority groups, but of course make the timing of when those groups will get it contingent on that federal supply,” she said.
“The public has a right to know in order to hold government accountable. We need to be able to scrutinize their decisions and push back where appropriate.”
Hardcastle cited the public debate that followed the province’s decision to initially not include EMTs in the first phase of the vaccine rollout; after some pushback, EMTs were allowed to receive the COVID-19 vaccine earlier than they had been previously listed.
“When we’re talking about rationing who’s going to get a critical health service and who isn’t, this is not a behind-closed-door government decision that they announce at the last minute.
“That is a decision the public has a right to know and should know,” she said.
Hardcastle said, when it comes to vaccines, more information is always better because there are certain groups that are weary of and hesitant to get immunized.
“Transparency is important because, where there have been lapses in transparency, I think it contributes to people doubting the government, not thinking the government public health measures are evidence-based, and it potentially affects compliance with some of the public health restrictions,” she said.
No plans for interprovincial travel restrictions
Shandro also said Wednesday that province won’t join Manitoba in placing new COVID-19 restrictions on interprovincial travellers.
He said it’s important to put in health restrictions as needed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus but travel within Canada remains important.
“We know that there is travel that needs to be made through provinces,” Shandro said.
“We’re not looking at advocating for any changes to interprovincial travel at this time.”
Alberta is one of four Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, to report cases of new virus variants, which spread faster than the original strain and could rapidly overwhelm hospitals.
Shandro noted that Alberta made changes earlier this week to its international border testing pilot programs at the Calgary International Airport and the land border crossing at Coutts.
International passengers returning to Alberta via the airport or at the border crossing will have to remain in isolation between their first and second COVID-19 tests.
Until recently, they could go about their business after receiving a negative test result and before getting a second test six or seven days later.
Travellers will now have to self-isolate for a full two weeks if either test is positive.
–with files from Canadian Press