Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that more than 15,000 essential workers at Alberta’s 136 federally and provincially-regulated meat-packing plants will be receiving their COVID-19 vaccines starting this week.
“Meat-packing plants were identified as an eligible group under Phase 2C of the rollout, but limited supply delayed this step until now,” Kenney said.
The vaccine clinic at the Cargill plant in High River was set to get underway more than a week ago, but a delay in receiving Moderna vaccine doses put that project on hold.
Shots will start being given on Tuesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said, adding that a variety of approaches will be used to ensure the vaccination campaign is successful, including on-site clinics, pharmacy appointments and AHS immunization clinics.
Shandro said it’s expected the entire rollout for vaccinating meat plant workers will take a few weeks, provided Alberta continues to get an adequate supply of doses.
“On top of that, a pilot project led by a team of researchers at the University of Calgary will begin at the Cargill plant at High River,” Shandro said.
“The goal of this project will be to combat vaccine hesitancy by providing translated materiels and on-site translators at meat-packing plants.”
That plant was the site of a major outbreak last year, with nearly half of its 2,200 workers testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
According to Dr. Adam Vyse, a physician in High River who’s been working on the front lines of treating COVID-19 patients during the Cargill outbreak, said the targeted vaccination campaigns are “critical.”
“We recognize the racialized, marginalized front-line worker community is massively, disproportionately hit by COVID 19 and they have to be a priority in terms of vaccination,” he said Monday.
“We have 80 per cent (of workers) signed up and ready to go — that’s higher than any percentage out there, so if you want to be effective and efficient, this might be the way to go.”
Vyse said approaching the immunizations this way is “leverage into that community” and sends the message that officials are committed to ensuring their safety.
“There’s a lot of fear. They go to work every day in close quarters with top notch protections and great standards but still we’ve had two outbreaks this winter in spite of all that. It’s a hard place to control COVID.”
Vaccine age bracket for youth with underlying health conditions expanded
Shandro also announced that as of Tuesday, Albertans born between and including 2006 and 2009 who have underlying health conditions can book their appointment for the Pfizer vaccine.
“These are young folks who are turning 12, 13, 14 and 15 this year, with the conditions that we previously opened up to those who are 16 and older in Phase 2B,” he said.
“This is in line with what other jurisdictions are doing, including Ontario.”
Shandro said parents or guardians booking appointments for qualifying young people are asked to speak with their doctor before making the decision, after which they will receive a doctor’s note allowing them to book the immunization through a pharmacy, online or by calling 811.
Alberta plans to bypass federal rules and offer Pfizer to people under the age of 16.
“The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is not currently approved by Health Canada for use in individuals under the age of 16, but the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has stated that youths aged 12-15 with a pre-existing health condition are more at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 than from a COVID-19 vaccine, and would benefit from getting Pfizer vaccine,” Tom McMillan, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, told Global News in an email.
“Pfizer has submitted safety and efficacy data for this age group to Health Canada with an application to expand the age of licensure.”
Just over 80 per cecnt of Albertans over 75 have been vaccinated, Kenney said. That’s in addition to 75 per cent of those aged 65-74, 55 per cent of those in the 60-64 age range, 37 percent of Albertans aged 50-59 and 24 per cent of people in the 40-49 age bracket.
More than 87,000 doses of the Aztrezeneca vaccine were administered in the last week and more than 55,500 Albertans have made appointments over the next seven days to receive their shot.
“We will not stop until Albertan who wants the vaccine gets it,” Kenney said. “The sooner we are all immunized, the sooner we can get past the pandemic.”