It was a year ago that upper northeast Calgary was struggling with the city’s highest rate of COVID-19 cases.
But now that area has a new distinction: the highest rate of vaccination in the city and the province with 99.3 per cent of people over the age of 12 with at least one COVID-19 shot.
“To get to this point wasn’t even a goal. To be able to get to this place where we are number one in the province, it’s just been a surreal experience,” said Anila Lee Yuen, president and CEO of the Centre for Newcomers.
“It was really just joy that we did it as a group — 254 organizations working together.”
Lee Yuen said it was a matter of making it easier for people to get vaccinated by eliminating barriers of transportation, language and lack of internet access. There was also a focus on using trusted community experts to get information out about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Now they have built that trust with the health-care provider and now they know that this health-care provider who I trust, they got vaccinated and their children are vaccinated, then I can do that too,” Lee Yuen said.
While five- to 11-year-olds are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine now, it’s not being given in Alberta schools.
Lee Yuen is concerned the same barriers that kept people from getting vaccinated in northeast Calgary could stall vaccination rates for children under 12 if the province doesn’t bring the vaccination program to schools.
“For us, it’s around barriers and equity. It’s around vulnerable populations and marginalized groups and being able to ensure that they have barrier-free access for their children. That may not be possible if it’s not in the school system,” Lee Yuen said.
“For us, it’s extremely important to bring those vaccines to the school system in multiple languages.”
Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said earlier this week the best approach to get younger kids vaccinated is through the 120 Alberta Health Services clinics that were announced.
He said AHS offered shots for kids 12 and up earlier this year, and 700 of the 1,300 schools with eligible kids cancelled.
Lee Yuen is confident the model used in northeast Calgary can be used to bump up low vaccination rates in rural Alberta too.
“The heart of the model is utilizing the community members who are already there. Our job would just be to explain what we did but it would be community-driven,” Lee Yuen said.