Alberta’s vaccine distribution has ‘significant inequity,’ doctor says

EDMONTON — New data released by the Government of Alberta on Monday is bringing the province’s COVID-19 vaccination rate into sharper focus.

Thanks to an interactive map that breaks the province down by neighbourhood, now anyone with internet access has the ability to see the percentage of vaccinated Albertans – separated by age – in any given area.

Numbers from the province show more than half of Albertans over the age of 12 have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with over 1.8 million of Alberta’s nearly 4.5 million people now having received a shot.  

But with the new numbers, and their geographical breakdown, comes criticism from some healthcare experts in the province.

VACCINATIONS

Twin brooks and St. Albert have the highest vaccination rates in the Edmonton Zone with 56 per cent of people having received at least one dose. 

Meanwhile, Edmonton’s neighbourhood of Abbottsfield has the lowest rate of vaccinated people in the city, at 37 per cent. 

‘VACCINE HUNGER GAMES’

Dr. Gabriel Fabreau is an assistant professor in the Departments of Medicine and Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary. His clinical practice as a general internist focuses on caring for socially vulnerable people.

“We have a significant inequity in vaccine distribution,” Fabreau told CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon. “That’s compounded by an unequal distribution of where COVID hits hardest.”

Fabreau says Edmontonians living in some of the city’s lower income neighbourhoods face more barriers for getting a COVID-19 vaccine than people who live in more affluent parts of Edmonton.  

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“When you compare Twin Brooks to Abbottsfield, or to Edmonton’s northeast,” he said, “you have about 1.5 times less likelihood of being vaccinated; although the case counts in those jurisdictions are about 2.3 times higher than when compared to some of the higher income neighbourhoods.” 

The U of C assistant professor says time, access to transportation, command of the English language, and internet literacy are among the barriers preventing lower income Albertans from getting vaccinated.   

“We’ve essentially set up a vaccine hunger games,” he said.

Fabreau suggests pop-up vaccination clinics, like the ones seen at Alberta’s meat processing facilities, should also be deployed in the province’s other COVID-19 hot zones.

“Maybe go into these communities,” he said. “Get those vaccines to those people.”

Roman Pabayo, assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, agrees with Fabreau – but also acknowledges that with older people among the first eligible vaccine recipients, age is also a consideration in vaccination rates.

“If you look at the neighbourhoods with lower vaccination rates in comparison to the rest,” Pabayo told CTV News Edmonton, “automatically you identify low socio-economic status.”

Pabayo says vaccine hesitancy in lower income neighbourhoods can be caused by several factors. He believes there are steps that could work to mitigate those issues.

“I do think diverting resources to this, to targeting these neighbourhoods, whether it be through mobile vaccination units, allocating resources to help people in terms of education, getting information out there, translating information into immigrant languages… that would help, I think, alleviate that vaccine hesitancy.”

‘PROVINCE-WIDE APPROACH’: HINSHAW

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Tuesday the province is looking at ways to address barriers certain demographics are facing to getting vaccinated.

“We are looking at a province-wide approach to making sure that those areas with high cases and low immunization coverage… that we’re looking at what the barriers are and then looking at ways to most effectively address those barriers,” Hinshaw said.

HINSHAW

“That’s something that we have been looking at and wanting to make sure that both the questions about physical barriers such as logistics and hours of clinics, those kinds of things, as well as information provision, trusted providers partnering with local community leaders.”

Hinshaw said the province has been working with local community leaders for many months to “support information provision.”

“Now we’re just having the discussions about the potential next steps for the areas in the province, again, that have those two metrics of concern; with high rates and low uptake to see what our options are with respect to focus provision of service in a way that’s most effective for those areas.”

‘DEVELOPING A STRATEGY’

In a written response to a CTV News inquiry, Tom McMillan, spokesperson for Alberta Health, said: “There are many different factors that can contribute to the current vaccination percentage in any given community.

“This includes the proportion of the population that was eligible in Phase 1 and 2 of the province’s vaccine rollout, vaccine hesitancy, and other barriers impacting people’s ability to access the vaccine,” wrote McMillan.

McMillan went on to say that with all Albertans now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Alberta Health is “developing a strategy to help specific groups and areas access the vaccine.

“This may include targeting areas where there is currently low coverage and where people may have challenges accessing currently available options.”

Exact details on the province’s strategy to vaccinate specific groups in certain areas are still unclear.   

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Touria Izri

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