Calls for help to increase ‘dismal’ uptake in fourth vaccines in Alberta

Birdie Archer gets her fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Calgary on May 6, 2022. Global News

It’s been nearly a month since the province starting offering a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to more elderly Albertans.

Just over 100,000 people have received the shot as of May 2.

Birdie Archer recalls the grim days at the start of the pandemic when so many seniors were falling victim to COVID-19 as it spread rapidly through long-term care centres.

“I probably had a few nervous times being a little concerned,” said Archer, who lives at Cambridge Manor in northwest Calgary.

Residents of long-term care facilities were disproportionately affected in terms of the mortality rate from COVID-19.

Two years later, the situation is much different, thanks in large part to vaccinations.

“We have seen positive affects of the vaccine, and knowing now, with our outbreaks, we have seen that our residents have very mild symptoms or they’re asymptomatic, so we all see that and are pleased with the effects of the vaccine,” said Jenny Robinson,  chief operating officer with the Brenda Strafford Foundation, which runs Cambridge Manor.

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In Alberta in mid-April, fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine became available to everyone 70 and older, First Nations, Metis and Inuit people age 65 and older, as well as all seniors in congregate care regardless, of age.

Long-term care centres like Cambridge Manor are in the process of getting residents vaccinated.

“We currently have an exceptionally high uptake of the vaccine. We are currently rolling out the fourth dose for our resident population and we are already at 85 per cent for all of our sites. Our goal is to have 95 per cent and over,” Robinson said.

Archer said she is relieved to get her latest booster shot, considering the number of outbreaks.

As of May 6, there were outbreaks at 24 long-term care centres and at 42 supportive living centres in the city.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to get it here where I live, so that’s a good thing,” Archer said.

According to Carewest administration, 91.4 per cent of eligible residents who wanted the fourth dose have received it at five of their Calgary sites.

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Four other centres in the city have yet to begin administering fourth doses, but they anticipate doing so within the next two weeks.

As of May 2, just over 100,308 people had their fourth shots in Alberta.

98 per cent of people aged 70 to 74 have two doses, but that drops to just 81 per cent for the third dose and just 11,027 people in that age group have their fourth shot, which is just under seven per cent.

“I think seniors are getting some mixed messaging and that’s unfortunate. We really need to be clear in our messaging that COVID is still very much here. We have very high rates of infectivity,” said Dr. Christine Gibson, a family physician at Calgary’s Mosaic Refugee Clinic.

She said some seniors she sees aren’t even aware the second booster is available.

“They are still very much at risk and when you look at the mortality from 2022 we should be very afraid and we should be doing something preventative rather than reactive about this. If you are thinking you are not at risk, please be aware that even a healthy senior is at very serious risk of getting COVID and these new strains are just so contagious,” Gibson said.

She said there should be targeted campaigns at places seniors frequent.

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“They should be getting campaign rollout phone calls letting them know that this is something they are eligible for and those phone calls should be available in all languages. We really need an Alberta-wide campaign because the numbers are dismal,” Gibson said.

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Staff at the Centre for Newcomers said there’s a need to focus on vulnerable seniors who may be facing language or transportation issues.

“It’s really important for NGOs or other organizations to get into those communities who have developed that trust to get those doses to them,” said the centre’s Jon Yee.

Alberta Health says any decisions to provide additional doses to other groups of Albertans will be based on careful consideration of the evidence available, including the recommendations of the provincial and national vaccine advisory committees.

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