Calgary Emergency Management Agency flummoxed on low vaccination rates in east Calgary: ‘not for lack of desire’

A nurse holds a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the COVID-19, at the Attikon University Hospital in Athens, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. Kostas Tsironis / Pool via AP

Why one side of the city is getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and another isn’t remains a mystery to Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency (CEMA).

In a map shown to Calgary’s emergency management committee Tuesday, Deerfoot Trail almost perfectly marks a divide between vaccination rates above 50 per cent and below 50 per cent.

“We are seeing somewhat lower rates in the upper northeast and northeast zones, which were also where we saw the highest levels of transmission earlier in the pandemic,” CEMA chief Sue Henry told the committee.

One Alberta Health Services local geographic area in the city’s northeast has a less than 40 per cent vaccination rate. One in the city’s southwest is nearly at 60 per cent. The provincial average sits at more than 48 per cent. These figures are for people who have received one dose of the vaccine.

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A map of Calgary’s vaccination rate by AHS local geographic area, as presented to the emergency management committee on May 25, 2021. handout / C

Henry said the relatively low vaccine uptake “is not for lack of desire” for eastern Calgarians to get their shot.

“We understand that appointments at the Genesis Center are fully booked for the foreseeable future. There are some unique barriers for residents and communities that we continue to work with our partners to help address so we can make vaccines as accessible as possible for all Calgarians.”

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal said the Genesis Centre isn’t enough to get Calgarians who live east of the Deerfoot their first and second doses.

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“It’s difficult for many residents in east Calgary to get access to (the Genesis Centre) and others to get vaccines,” Chahal said. “And from what I’ve been hearing, people want to get vaccinated, but it’s that (problem of) barriers to accessibility.”

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The CEMA chief said the province has not been able to provide more granular data, like vaccine rate by postal code or even race-based data by AHS local geographic area.

Click to play video: 'Alberta health-care workers push for more to be done to vaccinate vulnerable populations against COVID-19'
Alberta health-care workers push for more to be done to vaccinate vulnerable populations against COVID-19

Henry said CEMA is instead having to rely on anecdotal data collected by the Calgary East Zone Newcomers Collaborative, “so that, by understanding what those specific barriers are, we can begin to address them in various different ways.”

“We are stuck at this level where we have the overall population percentage (of race-based vaccination data) and have to make decisions about translated material and support based on the feedback we’re hearing from the Calgary East Zone Newcomers Collaborative,” Henry said.

CEMA has been appealing to the province for drop-in based, mobile vaccination clinics. The agency has been able to support some six different encampment vaccination clinics, serving Calgarians experiencing homelessness.

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“We also continue to work with local physician groups to ensure that if they are able to provide the vaccinations to the community, that we’re able to support the logistics in behind those to increase the hours, increase the availability and dispel some of the myths around vaccine hesitancy,” Henry said.

Last week, Mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed to the hours AHS clinics are open

“I think it’s shift work more than anything else,” Nenshi said last week. “You know, 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.”

A local physician involved with getting vaccination clinics up and running at meat packing plants said the centralized booking system is to blame.

“Not knowing how to navigate… what I’ve been calling the vaccine Hunger Games, which is calling five pharmacies and booking online and then taking the first appointment that you can and then getting there within X-number (of hours),” Dr. Gabriel Fabreau told Global News.

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Even with case counts, case rates and transmission rates of COVID-19 trending down during the third wave of the pandemic, Henry noted that Calgary still leads the province in active cases, intensive care units remain crowded, and COVID variants add “unknown risk to our current situation.”

“Although the situation is improving, there are several reasons we decided to recommend the (state of local emergency) be renewed instead of expiring,” the CEMA chief said.

“We need to keep the public focused on the potential seriousness of the COVID virus and ensure that we are ready to support the vaccination campaign and rollout to be as nimble as possible to support our communities that need vaccination.”

The state of local emergency, renewed on Friday and in place for up to 90 days, allows the city to keep that nimbleness.

–with files from Heide Pearson, Global News

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