The map, launched by the Alberta government, shows areas like Calgary–Lower Northwest and Calgary–Elbow sitting at 51.6 per cent and 53.3 per cent of people having received a first dose of a vaccine respectively, whereas Calgary-Upper Northeast and Calgary-East sit at 31.9 per cent and 34.9 per cent respectively.
The roughly 20 per cent disparity in vaccination rates has local politicians calling for changes to the province’s vaccine rollout to make sure they’re accessible for anyone who wants one.
Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal is among those pushing for more to be done to help people in those areas navigate the system and deal with potential language barriers.
“I think there’s still a lot of work we need to do to make sure that everybody gets vaccinated in our community,” Chahal said.
He’d like to see pop-up clinics at places like the Village Square Leisure Centre or close to faith and cultural organizations.
He pointed to the success of vaccine clinics at some of Alberta’s hard-hit meat-packing plants as an example of how well it can work.
“The issue is not about vaccine hesitancy — people want to get vaccinated — it’s about breaking down and reducing those barriers so members of our public can get vaccinated.
“We need to be finding those people and reaching them through whatever means is necessary.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also supports the idea of pop-up vaccination clinics.
“If we can find ways to do popups to make it more convenient for people (then) I believe we should do that, and we’re just waiting on some guidance from the province on what that will look like,” the mayor said.
“I think it’s shift work more than anything else,” Nenshi added. “For a lot of folks, you’ll take the appointment whenever you get it and you can afford to take a couple of hours off work and just go get it done. And although we do have a policy that allows you to get time off work to get your vaccination, it’s not always practical or easy to do that if you’re running your own business or if you’re the only one at the counter at the store.
“It’s about going to people where they live and making it easy for them.”
It’s a sentiment that Chahal echoed.
“It’s extremely difficult for many of our residents,” he said. “They’re working during the day, and many of them are still working two jobs. So navigating the system — and then with language barriers as well — can be challenging for many in our community.”
Speaking to Global News, Lorian Hardcastle with the University of Calgary said any failure to get a vaccine in the arm of someone who wants it but who faces barriers due to child care, transportation or clinic hours “is really a policy failure.”
In an email to Global News, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said they are developing a strategy to help specific “groups and areas” access the vaccine.
“This may include targeting areas where there is currently low coverage and where people may have challenges accessing currently available options,” he said.
“We recently expanded the Genesis clinic to better support residents, have now expanded to more than 1,300 pharmacies, translated materials into 13 languages, and launched a province-wide campaign to address vaccine hesitancy.”
While Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw didn’t confirm on Tuesday if the province is planning to launch pop-up clinics, she did say COVID-19 hotspots with low vaccination rates are a concern and health officials will be engaging with community leaders to determine the next steps they could take.
“We are looking at a province-wide approach to making sure that those areas with high cases and low immunization coverage — that we’re looking at what the barriers are and then looking at ways to most effectively address those barriers,” Hinshaw said.
“We’re just having the discussions about the potential next steps for the areas and the province.”