Demand in Alberta for second doses of COVID-19 vaccines has dropped sharply as hundreds of thousands of people still have yet to receive their second injection despite being eligible.
The province already has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country for first doses. The apparent slowdown in demand for second shots comes at a time when the government has lifted virtually all public health restrictions as part of the country’s most aggressive reopening plan.
Alberta’s low rates have raised concerns about whether the province will be able to achieve the high level of protection that many experts believe is necessary to keep COVID-19 at bay. There are also concerns that people who do not follow up with a second dose may still be exposed to more contagious variants that have shown the ability to infect people who have only received a single dose more easily.
And although demand for second doses has also fallen recently in other provinces, including Ontario, experts note that Alberta’s relatively low rates for first doses mean fewer people will be fully vaccinated in the long term. if the province fails to convince to get vaccinated.
Across the province, 74% of eligible people aged 12 and over received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the second lowest rate in the country ahead of Saskatchewan alone.
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Alberta dominated the country for second doses early on, in part because it completely vaccinated more people before extending the intervals, but also because low demand for the first dose prompted the province to open up. the second doses to everyone sooner than elsewhere. About 55 percent of the province has two doses, behind Manitoba, Ontario and the three territories, but still higher than the national rate.
The province has administered an average of 29,000 second doses per day over the past week, up from a weekly average of about 56,000 at the end of June. There were approximately 19,000 second doses given on Tuesday.
Provincial government data shows that there are up to 520,000 people who would be eligible for their second dose because they had a first injection at least 28 days ago but did not have it. Another 134,000 have had their first shot in the past four weeks and are waiting to become eligible.
Tom McMillan, spokesperson for Alberta Health, said in an email that part of the drop could be linked to problems with Pfizer shipments in late June, which resulted in some appointments being postponed. -you. He also said the onset of summer may have caused some people to delay their second dose due to vacation schedules.
He urged anyone who hasn’t booked their second dose to do so: “Now is the time. “
Mr McMillan said health officials were working to boost vaccine uptake through education, including an advertising campaign and editorials by Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, which were released in rural newspapers. Alberta Health is also working to make it easier to get people vaccinated in temporary and mobile clinics.
The province had received about a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine more than it administered as of July 7, the most recent data available, and many mass vaccination sites and pharmacies have appointments available this week, in addition to walk-in clinics.
The demand for first doses dropped at the end of May and recently only a few thousand first doses have been given per day.
The province started a lottery with three payments of $ 1 million and other prizes to get people to get vaccinated, but that didn’t appear to have significantly increased demand among people who haven’t been vaccinated. . The province has already awarded one of the jackpots, and the remaining draws are only open to those who are fully immune, which the government hopes will convince those unwilling to schedule a second injection.
Jim Kellner, infectious disease expert and pediatrician at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, said the province’s immunization coverage is “good, not great.” Without a higher number of fully vaccinated people, he said the province would remain at risk for major outbreaks.
“We are now facing it with variants, and with each of the successive variants, but especially with the Alpha variant and the Delta variant, we know that it really takes two doses of the vaccine to be fully protected,” he said. he declares.
“If you get a dose you are adequately protected, but not as well and probably not for as long. “
Dr Kellner said people likely feel less urgency to get vaccinated after Alberta removed all public health restrictions. The government has sent the message that things are safe even at current immunization levels, he said.
“There is a risk that we will shoot ourselves in the foot here because by opening ourselves wide and publicly declaring that we are doing well enough to open up, any incentive to receive that second dose is gone,” he said. -he declares.
Jean-Christophe Boucher, a political science professor at the University of Calgary who has conducted research into the causes of vaccine reluctance, said public health officials face problems with any vaccine requiring a a reminder when it comes to ensuring that people receive these subsequent injections.
Dr Boucher said other jurisdictions such as Israel and Britain have also had problems getting some people to show up for their second dose. He said the urgency people felt to get that first shot has faded as some will conclude that they already have sufficient protection, especially as infections continue to decline.
“There is a part of the population who got vaccinated because they were afraid of COVID,” he said.
Many people became eligible for vaccines during a third wave of punishment that brought back severe public health restrictions. But the province is now fully open, with only a few dozen new infections per day against 2,500 at the height of the third wave.
Dr Boucher agreed that opening as fast as Alberta did has removed incentives to get vaccinated because the government can no longer argue that people need to get vaccinated to get life back on track. normal.
He said the province’s refusal to consider policies such as vaccine passports – Premier Jason Kenney has repeatedly ruled out the idea – or other measures linking vaccines with additional privileges means people who have not received their first vaccine or are likely awaiting a booster will not feel any urgency to book a shot.
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