Premier Jason Kenney is raising the idea of possibly introducing incentives for people in Alberta getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We want to leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting as many people vaccinated as possible given the huge health and social benefits,” the premier said at an unrelated news conference Friday.
“I have asked our health department to consider some of those creative incentives.”
While no decisions have been made yet, his comments come as the province is days away from Stage 1 of its reopening plan.
Each step hinges on a certain percentage of the population getting a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the number of people being hospitalized by the illness staying below certain benchmarks.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw clarified on Thursday that is just the starting point, and when the time comes, it’s important Albertans get a second dose as well.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) also updated its recommendation Friday.
NACI said because of vaccine supply, second doses should be offered as soon as possible.
Until now, the expectation has been a 16-week wait.
Blake Murdoch, a research associate at the University of Alberta Health Law Institute, said knowing Alberta is going to be reopening without the majority of people fully vaccinated, “we need to accelerate as quickly as possible.”
“Focusing on a similar sort of phased rollout through age groups and risk groups,” he said.
Murdoch agreed with the strategy of offering incentives and public outreach programs.
“Engaging with vaccine-hesitant people is the most important thing,” he said.
“It’s very difficult to change the minds of some of the hardcore anti-vaxxers, but vaccine hesitancy is very much addressable, and we have seen through some of the recent polling that vaccine hesitancy has gone down.”
Murdoch acknowledged that with the reopening based on first doses, there could be a risk people may not have the same uptake when it comes to a second dose.
“As well as believing that the first dose provides full protection, when it doesn’t,” he added.
Kenney noted Alberta is currently ahead of the national average for second doses.
How to ensure people get a second dose?
There is a point many health experts have been clear on when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines.
“The fullness of the therapy is the two doses,” said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Ottawa.
“The first dose gives you immunogenic response, the second dose gives you longevity.”
Deonandan said the way to ensure people don’t dismiss it is all in the messaging.
“The intentional skipping, because they think one dose is enough, is what we see in the U.S. where about eight per cent of the population skipped that second dose,” he explained.
“It’s unclear whether it’s because they think one dose is enough or they’re afraid of the side effects.”
According to Deonandan, there is a communication crisis playing out right now.
“This has to be a society-level endeavour of getting proper science communicated — all hands on deck — including the common citizen,” he said.
The province said Albertans can expect an update early next week about booking second doses.
Watch below: Some videos from Premier Kenney’s news conference on Friday.