For months, Albertans clamoured to get their COVID-19 vaccine, but that sentiment is changing.
The vaccination rate in Alberta has been crawling since the province announced one month ago that, because 70 per cent of the eligible population had received one dose, nearly all public health restrictions would be lifted.
As of Monday, 74.8 per cent of those eligible have received one dose of vaccine; 59.7 per cent of those eligible are fully vaccinated.
“In the Prairies, in Saskatoon and in Alberta as well, I think we are sort of hitting a wall with regard to administration of dose one,” said Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist and professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan.
“It is possible that you have reached the plateau in terms of vaccinating people,” said epidemiologist Zahid Butt at the University of Waterloo, adding this could be confirmed by watching the numbers in the next few weeks.
The province unveiled a lottery, offering cash prices and outdoor adventure prizes, to encourage Albertans to receive their doses of vaccine.
However, Muhajarine said complacency is to blame and points to how case counts, hospitalizations and deaths have been falling.
“They feel maybe they don’t need to get a shot because enough people in their community, in their province have got those first and second doses – they can ride that wave,” he said.
Zahid said there is a need to get “most of the population” vaccinated, one reason being the more transmissible delta variant.
“If you’re slow in vaccinating, that variant of concern will find a space there.
“You tend to get outbreaks in people who are not vaccinated,” he said.
Butt said that a levelling off of vaccination rates means there must be extra work done on public health messaging through social media, such as debunking all the myths around vaccines, and talking to community leaders where there are barriers.
However, now that the province has re-opened, indoor gatherings and large-scale events, such as the Calgary Stampede, have been permitted, and Muhajarine said there is little motivation for the unvaccinated.
“The incentive is so low right now for people to get a vaccine because everything is re-opened. I think that ship has sailed almost,” he said.
“It’s a big ask now for people, to ask people to get their first shot or second shot because they feel like we have put COVID-19 behind us.”
In a statement, Alberta Health said it continues to vaccinate tens of thousands every day.
“With more than 250,000 vaccines appointments already booked over the next 14 days, we will continue seeing our vaccine percentages rise,” said spokesperson Tom McMillan, though he could not break down how many of those appointments were first doses.
McMillan said the province is using temporary clinics, mobile clinics, drive-thru clinics as well as advertising campaigns to reach out to Albertans. He also said that Alberta Health has been partnering with organizations, such as Indigenous populations, Hutterite colonies and meat plants, warehouse and agriculture work sites.
“Now is the best time to get your vaccine,” McMillan said in a statement. “Appointments are available and vaccines are waiting for you, so please book your dose today.”