There was a sense of relief for some when the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine became available for children between the ages of five and 11. But soon, that relief turned into frustration.
The town of Tofield, Alta., is about 70 km east of Edmonton.
The pediatric vaccine isn’t available at most pharmacies across the province. Families from Tofield have to travel at least 53 km to Camrose to get their kids the shot.
Local pharmacist Darren Erickson said parents have told him that finding a good time to make the drive has been a huge barrier, and some families have decided not to make the effort.
“Any boundary that we put in place to get these children vaccinated is a problem,” he said.
Erickson said he has administered 5,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to people over 12 years of age. With vaccination rates for children between five and 11 at about 40 per cent for first doses, he thinks pharmacists can help see more kids get vaccinated.
“We know there are some pharmacies giving vaccines in Alberta here, and a full program in Saskatchewan, so I think we need to keep up with Saskatchewan,” Erickson said.
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Tofield town council voted to send a letter to the province asking for more access to the pediatric vaccine.
The letter, dated Jan. 13, said in part:
“Many across rural Alberta, Tofield included, reached out to advocate and make our voices heard in having this service provided in our communities through our very capable means, such as, our pharmacies and competent pharmacists.
“Bluntly, your government is ignoring rural Alberta, and creating barriers and hindrances for vaccine provision. Members of our community wanting to have their children vaccinated are being forced to drive between 50 and 70 km… to have this service provided.”
Tofield Mayor Debora Dueck said she hopes the province reads the letter and makes changes.
“They want us all vaccinated, they want the kids vaccinated so the schools can stay open and we can get on with our lives, but if we haven’t got access to it, we are going nowhere,” she said.
Dueck said even if families can make the trip, some have had to deal with nasty weather conditions.
“They need to fix it. They really need to fix it somehow,” she said.
In an email to Global News, the province said “AHS Public Health began offering pediatric Pfizer clinics in Tofield on Dec. 30, 2021.”
“These clinics have been scheduled as staffing and demand allows, as immunizers are being used in other locations,” the email reads. “There are upcoming clinics booked for Jan. 26 (already fully booked) and on Feb. 3 (appointments are still available).”
Dueck said this isn’t enough as people from out of town also will come to these clinics. She feels that speaks to the need for more pharmacists able to administer the pediatric vaccine.
“Not all rural communities have public health units,” she said. “All communities have pharmacies.”
In a statement, Alberta Health said it continues to monitor uptake and evaluate best approaches to administer all COVID-19 vaccines, including pediatric vaccines.