Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro is continuing to defend the UCP’s decision not to implement a so-called vaccine passport and related restrictions, amid surging fourth wave COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Shandro has been asked repeatedly, specifically in the last two days, why the Alberta government has no current plans to introduce a proof of vaccination program.
During a news conference on Friday in Rocky Mountain House, Shandro was questioned again about whether Alberta will have a system similar to the one coming to B.C., where residents have proof of vaccination on either an app or a scannable card, and along with it, province-wide restrictions will be in place preventing unvaccinated people from entering some settings, like non-essential businesses.
“The answer is, is that right now, the first work to be done is for us to make sure that Albertans have their vaccine records in the palm of their hand, for us to come out like other provinces are doing,” he said.
“And I expected to be next week for the principal card, (the) same as B.C., which we’ll also be launching next week.”
When asked why Alberta wasn’t also introducing comparable restrictions along with the vaccine card, Shandro said the government is prioritizing ensuring that businesses or workplaces that want to implement their own restrictions, can do so quickly through a secure QR code.
“When it comes to the question of whether it’s going to be government mandated, we have — as we’ve communicated before, premier said before — we are right now enabling those workplaces and businesses to be able to make those decisions,” he said.
“We are going to continue to look at the evidence on how that affects our vaccine uptake. If there is evidence… as we see the vaccine passports, as they are enabled in other provinces, I’m happy to look at that information.
“But at this time, we have made the decision for these decisions (to) be led by those workplaces and by those businesses.”
He was then asked about evidence from other provinces, like Ontario, B.C. and Manitoba, where the introduction proof of vaccination programs led to an uptick in vaccinations.
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At that point, the minister’s press secretary attempted to stop the reporter and move on to the next question in the queue.
When the reporter said, “Just one more question, I drove all the way to ask him,” the press secretary could again be heard saying to move on to “the next question please.”
“The evidence is out there. People are out there dying right now, Minister. They are dying. Time for action, that’s what Albertans are saying. So why are you delaying this?” CBC provincial affairs reporter Michelle Bellefontaine is heard saying before the press secretary again tries to move on to the next question.
Shandro insisted on answering the question, however, and stated he’s also heard these concerns from other Albertans.
“It’s good feedback for us to get, I appreciate that feedback,” he said.
“As I made the commitment that we are going to continue to look at that evidence, and we will continue to work with our public health officials on the question, so thank you.”
As of Friday, 686 Albertans were in hospital because of COVID-19, with 169 being treated in ICUs. That’s a jump of seven hospitalizations and 15 ICU admissions in 24 hours.
The province also reported 1,473 new COVID-19 infections, as well as 10 more deaths.
Of the Albertans eligible to receive the vaccine, 70.9 per cent were fully vaccinated as of Friday, and 78.9 per cent had received at least one dose.
Shandro was also asked Friday about the $100 incentive that was announced last week, aimed at getting unvaccinated Albertans out to get the jab, however, has not resulted in a significant increase in the vaccinations.
The health minister did not provide any official numbers on the rate of vaccination in the province, and instead vaguely referenced media reports from Medicine Hat, saying anecdotally, the region saw a 13 per cent increase in vaccinations after the incentive was announced.
“I know that incentive program like that is frustrating for Albertans. I’m frustrated by the fact that we had to get to the point where we’re coming out with an incentive program like that,” he said.
“So I appreciate (that) everybody who did the right thing and got the jab in their arms is frustrated that we’re now having to incentivize those who haven’t.”
Shandro said from what he’s seen, there have been “some increases” in vaccinations, and the Ministry of Health will “continue to be be interested in seeing how further those increases go.”
When asked whether the government would consider increasing the amount of money attached to the incentive, Shandro said no, adding that officials will be looking at areas with low vaccination rates and how to incentivize those residents to get their shots.