Premier Jason Kenney would like to see more Albertans get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine but admits uptake has slowed substantially.
On June 17, 70.3 per cent of Albertans 12 and older had received their first shot. Nearly a week later, on June 23, that number sat at just 71 per cent.
“Sure, I would love to see the number keep growing,” Kenney said Wednesday.
“I think it will move forward in inches instead of miles at this point.
“I think you’ll see it gradually move up, slowly, but move up towards, I’m hoping to 75 per cent,” the premier said. “I’d like to go beyond that, but at the end of the day, we’re not going to force people to get a shot.”
Still, he said Alberta is in a “good position,” leading the country in the percentage of the eligible population that is fully immunized with two doses. As of Tuesday, that number sat at 31.5 per cent.
“I believe we’ll be very close to 40 per cent of the eligible population fully immunized by Canada Day,” Kenney said.
“We’re well ahead of other countries and other jurisdictions that have fully reopened at our current levels of protection.”
As of Wednesday, 3,903,238 doses of vaccine had been administered.
He said chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and her team settled on the 70 per cent threshold for reopening while considering other factors like immunity from prior COVID-19 infection, the rate of second-dose uptake and hospitalizations.
“The most vulnerable people have been overwhelmingly vaccinated,” Kenney said. “We’re at about 87 per cent of people over the age of 70 who have received at least one dose… We’ll be getting close to all of those seniors and elderly people with chronic conditions who want a vaccine being fully vaccinated.”
The province has been creative, Kenney said, in encouraging Albertans to get their shots. There have been walk-in and drive-through vaccination clinics, vaccines offered at temples, mosques and workplaces, attempts to improve access in rural areas and even a vaccine lottery.
“We’re doing our part with the adequate supply now… to make it more convenient,” Kenney said.
“We did see with the lottery, after it was announced a couple of weeks ago, we went from a decline in first-dose demand to an increase. So that probably did add probably two to three percentage points.
“We’ll just keep working away at it.
“We figure there’s another roughly 15 per cent of the population who wants to get vaccinated or is open to it, but they’re just kind of latecomers — they haven’t gotten around to it, it’s just not a top priority.”
Hinshaw said Tuesday there are different reasons Albertans may have chosen not to get a vaccine yet.
“We’re doing that slow and methodical work to find out what those reasons are, how to make sure that we’re providing accurate information in a way that’s accessible to people, how to make sure we’re identifying where barriers exist.”
She said that work will continue throughout the summer.
“As we’re building that protective level, we don’t stop at 70 per cent… and we will continue to make gains, even though it may be slower throughout the summer.
“It’s clear that the more people who have the protection of vaccine, the better off we will all be collectively.”
Hinshaw said Alberta Health is also prioritizing the battle against COVID-19 misinformation.
“We are seeing a need to really focus on that particular area,” she said Tuesday.
“We’re also working to try to partner with local health-care providers, with different organizations, because often people will trust people who they know, who are part of their daily lives.
“Making sure that we give people that opportunity to hear reliable information, not just from our website, but also from others who may be more likely to be well-received,” she said.
Daily COVID-19 numbers
On Wednesday, Alberta Health confirmed 92 new cases of COVID-19 out of 6,335 tests. That put Alberta’s positivity rate at about 1.6 per cent.
There were 1,676 active cases across Alberta.
There were 199 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 56 of whom were being treated in ICU.
Two additional deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours: a man in his 40s in the North zone whose case had comorbidities and a man in his 80s in the Calgary zone whose case included comorbidities.