Allegations earlier this month that two City of St. Albert deputy fire chiefs jumped the line to get COVID-19 vaccines while frontline workers were forced to wait begs the question: who can roll up their sleeves in Alberta, and who can't?
This week, any Albertan who is 75 or older can book an appointment to get the vaccine. This follows the province's decision last Friday to open up vaccines to all residents in retirement centres, lodges, supportive living and other congregate living facilities.
Bookings begin at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24. You can book an appointment online at www.ahs.ca/covidvaccine. Or if you prefer to book over the phone, call Health Link (811). Family members can also book on behalf of relatives over 75 who are eligible to receive the vaccine, just have their Alberta Health Care number and date of birth ready.
Before this, first phases of immunization included staff and residents of long term care and designated supportive living sites, home care workers, respiratory therapists, as well as staff and physicians working in ICUs, emergency departments, medical, surgical and COVID-19 units, and frontline paramedics working in emergency medical services (EMS).
According to Alberta Health Services, emergency medical personnel in leadership positions were not eligible in phase 1a. Those vaccines were reserved for staff on the frontlines, like firefighters and paramedics. It's up to emergency medical service providers to make sure vaccination lists sent to AHS are accurate.
"AHS provided clear direction to all contracted medical first responders regarding who was eligible for COVID-19 immunization. It is the responsibility of EMS providers to ensure the lists submitted to AHS were accurate, and only included eligible frontline staff," wrote Sabrina Atwal, AHS spokesperson, in an email.
"Anyone who is not eligible for immunization should not be vaccinated."
Six of the seven leadership positions in St. Albert's fire department do have the necessary paramedic certification go into the field to respond to calls, according to the city. However, president of the local firefighter's union Warren Gresik told the Gazette deputy fire chiefs do not regularly respond to calls and shouldn't be considered frontline workers.
Kerry Hilts, deputy chief administrative officer with the City of St. Albert, told the Gazette the city is not involved in determining eligibility or administering the vaccine, and encouraged staff to get the vaccine "only when they are eligible to do so."
Phase 2 details
Opening up vaccines for senior Albertans should wrap up the first phase of the province's rollout plan heading into March, with Premier Jason Kenney releasing some details about phase 2 last week.
Age and chronic health conditions are the two biggest factors driving the second phase, which is set to begin in April.
"With a limited amount of vaccines, we must make difficult choices to ensure that those people who are most at risk are protected first, following the data and the scientific advice," Kenney said.
Those eligible in phase 2 will be divided into four sub-categories.
Group A will include Albertans aged 65 to 74, no matter where they live, First Nations and Métis people aged 50 to 64 on and off reserve or Métis Settlements, and staff of licensed supportive living facilities not included in Phase 1.
Group B will include Albertans aged 18 to 64 with high-risk underlying health conditions. Minister of Health Tyler Shandro said the province is still working to iron out who will qualify for this group, but the minister said they will be taking an evidence-informed approach to vaccinate those who have the highest risk of severe COVID-19 health outcomes.
The third group, Group C, will include residents and staff of eligible congregate living settings, which includes correctional facilities, homeless shelters and group homes, including disability, mental health and other types of licensed supportive living.
Shandro said those living in these settings are more likely to have health conditions and severe outcomes from COVID-19.
"We have already seen evidence how COVID can spread through those settings very rapidly," Shandro said.
The final group in Phase 2, Group D, will be made up of Albertans aged 50 to 64, no matter where they live, and First Nations and Métis people aged 35 to 49.
For more information on vaccines, visit the provincial website.
– with files from Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter