LAKELAND - Rural communities with low COVID-19 vaccination rates are being told to move forward cautiously - and this includes much of the Lakeland region.
Town of St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller confirmed she was part of a meeting on Thursday evening that also included Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, members of Alberta Health Services (AHS) North Zone, along with other elected officials of the region. The meeting was held "specifically to discuss the lower response in our area with vaccine administration," says Miller.
As a whole, the North Zone falls well below the overall provincial percentages in a number of categories when looking at the amount of people who have received first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
For youth between 12 and 19 years old, the North Zone is reporting just 43 per cent of eligible people have received their first dose, 18 per cent lower than the provincial average for that age group. Only 40 per cent of young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 have received their first dose of the vaccines in the North Zone, which is 19 per cent lower than the provincial average.
For those in their thirties, the North Zone is sitting 15 per cent lower than the provincial average; and 14 per cent lower than the provincial average when considering people in their 40s who live in the North Zone.
"We were asked to reach out to our community and express the realities our community could face with COVID illness and outbreak, especially in the age groups of 19 to 39," says Miller. "I was asked if I know the reasons why we have higher than provincial averages of vaccine hesitancy."
She adds that the provincial representatives involved in the meeting "advised... our communities need to move forward cautiously," due to the low vaccination rates.
Lakeland This Week reached out to Alberta Health for comment on the issue of low vaccination rates being seen in the region and what is being done. Tom McMillan, assistant director, communications, with Alberta Health, said among other initiatives in place, "Health officials are... meeting with local community leaders to encourage vaccinations and discuss other ways that we can get more Albertans vaccinated."
Last week, the Government of Alberta launched a new mobile vaccine bus as a way to visit rural communities and sites, "to help more people get vaccinated."
McMillan adds, the government continues to vaccinate tens of thousands of people every day, and will keep launching new initiatives to help people access the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We are using temporary clinics, mobile clinics, drive-thru clinics, advertising campaigns and much more. There are more than 1,400 pharmacies offering the vaccine, along with hundreds of AHS clinics and physicians’ offices," he said.
By the numbers
As of July 22, 75.2 per cent of Albertans who are able to get the vaccine have received their first dose. This number represents 63.9 per cent of the total population. When looking at second dose vaccination numbers, 62 per cent of those eligible are fully vaccinated, which represents 52.7 per cent of the total population.
But, in the Bonnyville, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, and St. Paul regions only one area has hit the 50 per cent threshold, which is Cold Lake, according to the provincial map.
Lac La Biche is the next highest for overall vaccination rate, and is sitting at 47.9 per cent. Bonnyville is at 44.8 per cent, according to the map, which was last updated with data on July 22.
The St. Paul region has the lowest vaccination rate in the area, sitting at just 41.9 per cent. To the south of St. Paul, only 32.1 per cent of eligible people in the Two Hills region have received their first dose of the vaccine, and to the west in the Smoky Lake region, that number is sitting at 53.7 per cent.
Most areas do have a low number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, as of Monday morning. While the Lac La Biche region had dropped to zero cases, one active case is now being reported on the provincial map.
The St. Paul region continues to have zero cases, while the neighbouring area of Smoky Lake is showing five active cases.
There are three active cases in the MD of Bonnyville, and three active cases in the Cold Lake region.