Health law and health policy experts say there is a lack of transparency about Phase 2 of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan.
On Thursday, Premier Jason Kenney was asked when Albertans can expect details of Phase 2, which would offer the vaccine to at-risk populations.
“The cabinet committee on COVID just considered last week a proposal from the department of Health for the priority groups as we roll out the COVID-19 vaccines to the general population,” he said.
“We will be releasing that in due course. We want to make sure we get it right.”
Kenney did not offer a specific timeline.
He said officials will be consulting with other provinces on how they plan to roll out vaccines.
“The key thing is we just need more supply right now,” Kenney said. “We’re ready to pull the trigger to start the vaccination of everyone in Alberta over the age of 75 and everyone in the Indigenous population over the age of 65.
“That is our key next group.”
Kenney said the province would then move down by age cohort, with an aim to vaccinate everyone over the age of 65 and people with chronic conditions.
Blake Murdoch, with the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, said the public deserves to know what the details of Phase 2 are.
“I think we can legitimately say the Alberta government is behind on this,” he said.
“I think the public has a right to have some idea of how things are going to roll out.”
“People want to have some idea. They need to have some sense of when, in a systematic way, they are going to be able to get vaccinated and then continue on a bit with life,” Murdoch said.
John Church, a health policy expert at the University of Alberta, argues that the province has run into a public relations problem with the management of COVID-19, as well as other policy issues.
And he said that is driving the speed of which details are being released.
“The government is being very cautious about how they provide information and what information they are providing because they don’t want to, for example, over-promise on what they’re going to do with the rollout of the COVID vaccine and then have that fall apart for a variety of possible reasons,” Church said.
In November, a poll showed 59 per cent of Albertans were dissatisfied with the province’s COVID-19 response. Another poll in December show that 30 per cent of Alberta respondents were satisfied with the job Premier Jason Kenney was doing when it came to COVID-19 – the lowest level of satisfaction for Canada’s 10 provincial leaders.
“I think that because they’ve had so much go wrong for them politically in the last several months, they are going to be pretty gun shy about doing anything prematurely that might add fuel to the fire around that,” Church said.
Church explains that the government is trying to achieve a “very delicate kind of balance.”
“It is a problem when you don’t have information out there. It does create a vacuum but then again, when I go back to the political issues they’re dealing with, I think there’s a balance they’re trying to achieve at this point,” he said.
At a separate press conference on Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reiterated the premier’s comments, when asked to explain the lack of details to Albertans.
Hinshaw said the decisions “can’t be taken lightly.”
“Certainly other provinces have released their plans for Phase 2 and we are continuing to have discussions about those very critical elements of what sequencing will look like,” she said.
“Again the importance of taking time to make sure all of the different aspects of sequencing and the options are considered has been causing the length of time that has been taken on this. I anticipate there will be some decisions made in the coming week. I know Albertans are keenly awaiting that information.”
–with files from Caley Ramsay