Alberta Health Services has held three youth-specific COVID-19 vaccination clinics in recent weeks, and they come at a time when vaccination coverage for those 12 to 19 years old is the lowest out of any age demographic in the province.
As of June 24, 59.2 per cent of Albertans 12 to 19 have been vaccinated with one dose; in comparison, 83.5 per cent of Albertans 60 to 74 had received one dose.
While appointments only more recently opened up for younger Albertans, coverage rates appear to be plateauing.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, said there could be several factors at play.
“I do wonder if the perception of risk-benefit in that group is a little less clear. I think early on in the pandemic, there was a lot of messaging and a strong kind of narrative put forth about how COVID is mostly a risk for older, sick people,” she said.
“It’s possible that the message…the pendulum has swung too far in that direction and people might be underappreciating the good reasons to consideration in that group.”
Saxinger also points to other issues such as the evolving information about the risk of myocarditis and updating risk information for younger people, who may be capable of transmitting infection but less likely to have a significant infection.
Kerry Williamson, spokesperson for Alberta Health Services, said the youth-centered clinics were held in geographic areas where uptake in those 12 to 19 had been identified as low.
- A youth-focused clinic was held in Fort McMurray’s MacDonald Island Park immunization centre on May 27; 183 youth were immunized that day
- A youth-focused clinic was held at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer over the lunch hour from June 15 to 17; 22 students were immunized
- Students from three northeast Calgary schools, including Forest Lawn High School, were invited to a drop-in immunization clinic at the East Calgary Health Centre on June 10; 72 youth were immunized that day
Williamson said AHS is planning to host additional clinics in Fort McMurray but no details have been confirmed; no additional lunch hour clinics are planned at the Red Deer School.
“We will continue to monitor vaccine uptake in each zone and implement targeted approaches to reduce barriers and improve access to COVID-19 immunization, as needed,” Williamson said.
Saxinger said tailored responses to certain groups of people are important when it comes to outreach.
“The next beam in the vaccination will be — people who are raring to go have been largely vaccinated now — and then the remainder, we have to figure out how to work through any issues that are there,” she said.
Wing Li, communications director of Support of Students Alberta, said school vaccination clinics are an important piece of a targeted approach to reach younger Albertans.
“We already know schools should be the hubs of community because they fill a lot of different gaps in society… Having them available in schools is widening the access.”
Li said the youth-focused clinics were important but she says they came late in the school year.
“We should have seen more of a targeted approach before schools ended… I know all these things are logistical but I think it becomes about prioritizing and getting children prioritized has always been key because they are in our community and they are out and about in these classrooms.”
Suzanne Annable lives in Lacombe with her 15-year-old daughter. Annable said there was no doubt she wanted her daughter vaccinated and on May 15, she was able to get her first dose at Westerner Park in Red Deer.
Annable said the process at Westerner Park was quick and organized, but she also thinks school vaccination clinics are a great option.
“It’s definitely easier for people in a bigger city, when they have public transportation, they can get to different clinics a lot easier than the smaller communities or rural communities,” she said.
“It would be nice if they focused a little bit of time or had rotating clinics that would go around to some of the rural schools as well.”
Annable, who is a teacher, said clinics at school would make getting vaccinated more convenient.
“From what I’ve heard from students and everything else, I think we’d probably have a fairly large portion of the school population actually have their kids vaccinated.
“We know kids are talking about it, if they’ve had their vaccine,” she said.