Alberta Health Services has started offering COVID-19 vaccination blitzes in several cities, where people who haven’t yet received their first dose can do so without an appointment at a walk-in clinic.
“We have great access across the province, even in the rural zones and they’re doing drop-ins too for first doses,” said Selene Tash, AHS executive director of community health services.
However, the drop-in rates in Calgary and Edmonton haven’t been great.
“Not huge numbers for drop-ins,” Tash said outside the Edmonton Expo clinic on Wednesday.
“Nothing like we saw in our first doses at the beginning of the campaign.”
Wednesday’s hours were 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 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, Tash said.
“But the feedback we’re getting is that they’re happy they have this option.”
Thursday’s hours have been extended. The Expo drop-in will now be open from 12:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“We were only going to go to our usual evening hours but we got some feedback that it would be helpful,” Tash said. “We’re going to be open three more hours than we had planned.”
Friday’s drop-in hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tash said AHS is looking at more ways to ramp up first dose uptake.
“Access is one thing. We’re working with some targeted populations as well, those populations that have difficulty accessing these sites or have some vaccine hesitancy or have questions about vaccine safety.
“This is really important for part of our safe reopening.
“The premier has promised that if we get to 70 per cent immunization rate that we’re on our way to the Stage 3 opening … We’ve got a little work to do.”
As of Tuesday, 67.2 per cent of eligible Albertans had received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
At least one Alberta doctor isn’t surprised the drop-in clinics aren’t seeing as high numbers as they were hoping for.
“I would imagine the location may have something to do with the low turnout,” said Chuck Wurster, an emergency physician at Strathcona Community Hospital in Sherwood Park.
“A lot of the successes are better in areas where there really are barriers to vaccination.”
“The recent COVID-19 vaccine rodeo that happened in northeast Calgary — where they got many more vaccinations there — is an example of how walk-ins, if they’re targeted in the right areas where people can actually walk to them, are probably more effective.”
Wurster said the drop-in vaccination clinics in Edmonton and Calgary get rid of one barrier: booking the appointment on the phone or online. But there are a lot of other barriers, he said.
“You still have the hurdle of going to the (vaccination site), taking time out of your day … potentially travelling outside your community.”
The limited hours are also a barrier, he said.
“It’s probably not the most ideal. It’s almost bankers’ hours.
“Extending it past 6 p.m. is a good idea. People who are working — I know they’re technically allowed to ask for the time off and get compensated for three hours of paid leave to go get vaccinated — but I would imagine there would be a lot of patients, especially if they’re at all hesitant to get a vaccination, I think they’d be hesitant to ask for the time off.
“If they had more hours outside regular working hours, like evenings and weekends, it might be easier for some people to get away.”
Wurster would like to see more creative solutions — like bringing the vaccine into communities instead of asking people to come to large clinics.
“As you go down the line from the eager, to the hesitant, to the ambivalent to vaccination, those types of centralized systems become less and less effective.”
“Innovative, creative ways to bring vaccine to the people are the best way to go,” Wurster said.
“We need to focus on what each community needs and listen to not only the people in the community that have not been vaccinated but also the people that work in those communities … like health-care workers.
“I’d be happy to ride around on my bike and give vaccinations. I’d be happy to see if a company would lend us a big bus and an ice cream truck and drive around and give shots out. Whatever works, I think we need to be doing that.”
Given the expected shipments of Moderna and Pfizer, Wurster believes it would be reasonable to open up eligibility to everyone seeking first and second doses as soon as possible.
Beverly Sadler got her second dose of Astrazeneca at the Expo Centre on Wednesday.
“I would love to see everybody get out there and I encourage everybody to be part of protecting themselves and protecting other people from it. I think it’s so important.”
She noticed not a lot of people were in the drop-in line.
“There was hardly anybody at all, maybe one person once in a while, and really the people who were there all had appointments.”
Daniel Vaillancourt and Meagan Bensalah took advantage of the drop-in vaccination option.
“It’s just convenient, very convenient. I have to start work tomorrow in the restaurant industry,” Bensalah said. “I just don’t like booking appointments. It’s easier to walk in.”
Vaillancourt preferred the walk-in option and was glad to get his vaccination.
“I work construction. I’ve been very busy. Just to get the vaccine, you feel safe about it, to be able to travel.”
The Edmonton Expo Centre is located at 7515 118 Ave. NW. The drop-in clinic will be in Hall C.
Health workers will be offering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and no appointments are needed.