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COVID-19: Alberta looks to community physicians to boost 1st dose vaccine uptake

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The health minister said Friday that Alberta physicians in regions where there is low COVID-19 vaccine uptake are being asked to help boost immunization coverage.

“Last Thursday, we issued a med bulletin, as it’s called, a notice that goes out to physicians through the ministry that provided a new code for physicians who are in a community that has a low vaccine uptake, for them to be able to go through their patient roster, reconcile with patient records, and if somebody hasn’t been vaccinated, be able to reach out to that patient, be able to explain the safety and efficacy, to encourage an opportunity this summer for those folks to get their vaccines,” Tyler Shandro said Friday.

Read more: Geographical differences in vaccination coverage prompt call from Alberta doctors to boost uptake

The bulletin was sent on July 2 and said the billing code can be applied retroactively for any call by a doctor to a patient in select areas that addressed concerns with the COVID-19 vaccine.

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“(It) may be claimed retroactively by all physicians who have called their patients via telephone or videoconference to address concerns related to COVID-19 vaccine by providing education or counselling between May 01, 2021 and June 21, 2021,” the memo, shared by the Alberta Medical Association, stated.

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The lower-uptake areas included are: Beaverlodge, Bonnyville, Calgary East, Calgary Lower NE, Calgary Upper NE, Cardston-Kainai, County of Forty Mile, Drayton Valley, Fairview, Frog Lake, High Level, High Prairie, Manning, Red Deer County, Rocky Mountain House, Spirit River, St. Paul, Taber MD, Two Hills County, Valleyview, Vermilion River County, Wabasca and Wood Buffalo.

Read more: Alberta doctors ‘beyond frustrated’ with virtual care app amid coronavirus crisis

As of July 7, 73.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine and 52 per cent of eligible Albertans are fully vaccinated with two doses.

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However, coverage rates vary across the province.

In northern Alberta, for instance, just 15.2 per cent of people 12 and older in the High Level area have received at least one dose. In southern Alberta, in the County of Forty Mile, first dose coverage of eligible Albertans is 29.5 per cent.

Immunization map c/o Alberta Health. Immunization map c/o Alberta Health

“We continue to push first doses,” Shandro said. “I think we’re darn near close to 75 per cent first dose coverage on a province-wide level. Calgary though — in our major urbans, we are much higher than that.”

Shandro said the province continues to work with Alberta Health Services, community pharmacies and community doctors on increasing vaccine uptake. He said the community outreach teams are also educating Albertans about hotel quarantine support, vaccine safety and efficacy, especially in areas where there tend to be multiple generations in one household.

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Premier Jason Kenney said while there is about 10 per cent of the population that will not get vaccinated under any circumstances, he believes the province will be able to hit an 80-per-cent vaccination rate.

“It’s going to take a little while. We think that the people who are most likely to get vaccinated but who have not yet done so tend to be younger, working adults between about 20 and 40 and they’re just busy,” the premier said.

“They’re healthy, they probably don’t have a family doctor and they don’t have much of a connection with the health-care system. We’re going to reach out to them in a very concentrated way.”

The Alberta Medical Association said it’s been very gratifying to see strong uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines in the province.

“Through 186 clinics, family physicians have been proud to provide more than 25,000 immunizations as of mid-June. Many more have been administered since then,” AMA president Dr. Paul Boucher said in a statement to Global News.

“We need to do more still, though, to get past the pandemic and the way to do that is by vaccinating as many Albertans as we can.

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“Immunization is the single most effective means, personally and for those around us, to protect against COVID-19.

“Family physicians are a trusted source of information on the vaccine. Because they also know your history, family and circumstances, they can make recommendations that are right for you,” Boucher said.

He added that family physicians are always happy to talk with patients about any concerns they have.

“It’s important that you feel comfortable with getting your COVID-19 vaccine, but it is the best way to protect yourselves and your loved ones.”

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Another approach is offering vaccines at a pancake breakfast at the Calgary Stampede.

“We have a partnership with the Calgary Stampede,” said Harry Yee, the chief operating officer of the Centre for Newcomers.

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“We’re having a breakfast to encourage people to come out and have a pancake, but also get their vaccine shot.

“We’re only here for an hour, but by taking over this hour, we’re getting a good turnout,” Yee said. “Hopefully, we could get a lot of people vaccinated.”

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He hopes other organizations follow suit and offer vaccine in way that’s accessible.

“I don’t know if it’s resistance; I think it’s just the barriers, at least for newcomers, to get their vaccine.

“Language barriers, but also barriers to get out, finding the location of where to get your vaccine shot.”

Read more: Doctor says Alberta needs to get creative, bring vaccine to people to boost 1st dose uptake

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Shandro said while demand for first doses is slowing, people are still eager to get their second dose. He expects Alberta will reach 60 per cent second dose coverage “in the coming days.”

“One of the milestones in particular that Dr. Hinshaw has flagged for me is getting to 65 per cent second dose coverage.

“We’ve also seen some of what’s been announced by PHAC federally — the Public Health Agency of Canada — what they’re looking for before the federal government eases border restrictions.

“For us, the advice we’re getting from Dr. Hinshaw and her office is that they’re setting second dose coverage at 65 per cent,” Shandro said.

“I don’t see any concerns with getting to 65 per cent.”

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