Questions are being raised about the rollout of Alberta’s second doses of COVID-19 vaccine, as thousands of first-dose appointments have gone unfilled and thousands more remain open heading into the weekend.
This past weekend’s walk-in clinic in northeast Calgary was equipped with 5,000 doses of vaccine, however, only about 2,000 were given out over the two days it was open.
According to one of the doctors behind the clinic, hundreds of people came asking for second doses of vaccine, but because of the parameters set out by Alberta Health Services, they had to be turned away.
“They wanted second doses when we had chairs that were empty, doctors that were waiting and vaccines 30 metres away in the fridge,” said Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, physician at the Peter Lougheed Centre and assistant professor at the University of Calgary.
“I think every single vaccination opportunity that is lost is a detriment to the population.”
When asked why the people were turned away, AHS said the clinic was “focused on reaching individuals who had not yet had their first dose and providing them an accessible and comfortable environment to receive their COVID-19 immunization.”
AHS said “only a small number of people showed up seeking their second dose,” and they were provided with guidance on eligibility, how to book an appointment and given handouts that explained eligibility criteria. The information was provided in more than 20 languages for those whose first language wasn’t English.
The doses that weren’t used as part of the clinic were brought to other clinics, and no doses were wasted, AHS said.
Similarly, in the first day of Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre walk-up vaccination blitz, only 200 of the available 2,000 first-dose shots were administered.
Day 2 saw about 200 people drop in for shots by 4:30 p.m. as well.
Numbers at Edmonton’s drop-in clinic weren’t far off.
AHS said 168 people dropped in at the Edmonton centre Wednesday. The Expo site has the capacity for more than 200 drop-in vaccinations a day, according to AHS.
Across the province, just over 3,800 vaccine appointments were unfilled Tuesday at AHS sites, according to the health authority.
“Given that we have large numbers of doses potentially not being used, I think we should open it wide up. Any age, any time, get your second doses,” said Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Strategic COVID-19 Pandemic Committee.
“It seems a terrible shame to have vaccine available but nobody turning up to be vaccinated.”
Dr. Chuck Wurster, an emergency physician at Strathcona Community Hospital in Sherwood Park, agreed.
With shipments of Moderna and Pfizer expected this month, he said Alberta should be “flush” with vaccine doses and supply shouldn’t be an issue.
When asked about the second dose rollout on Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province is looking into whether it can accelerate the timeline. As of Wednesday, Alberta Health said no changes had been made to the eligibilities.
“We’re already using a lot of creative approaches, including working with partners to host temporary clinics at shelters, meat-packing plants, work camps and other locations, and launching our first-ever drive-through clinic in northeast Calgary,” spokesperson Tom McMillan said.
Manitoba announced Wednesday a nearly $2-million lottery of cash and scholarships to encourage people to sign up to be immunized.
“A lottery model similar to what was announced in Manitoba would be great in Alberta,” said Gibney.
“I think it would get a lot of those individuals who aren’t deeply set against vaccine, kind of sitting on the fence… it would give them a real incentive to get vaccinated.”
McMillan said the government was “assessing whether lotteries or other tools would be good additions to our rollout,” as a means of incentivizing Albertans to get their shot.
As of Tuesday, 67.2 per cent of eligible Albertans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, an increase 0.5 per cent since Sunday.