Alberta’s government is concerned about low COVID-19 vaccination rates for children and wants to push provincial numbers closer to the national average, Health Minister Jason Copping said Wednesday.
Copping told a news conference that Alberta’s government doesn’t have a “specific target” in mind for increasing childhood vaccination rates.
“But we would like to move closer [to] — and even achieve — the average across the country,” he said.
The province has among the lowest vaccination rates for children in the country.
As of Monday, 47.1 per cent of Alberta children ages five to 11 have had one dose of vaccine, while 23.6 per cent of the same age group have had two doses.
That compares to vaccination rates of 56.11 per cent and 27.9 per cent respectively for Canadian children in the same age group, according to federal data from Feb. 13.
The highest-ranking province is Newfoundland and Labrador, where 85.24 per cent of children ages five to 11 have had one dose, and 40.27 per cent have had two.
In a bid to boost rates in Alberta children, the province has increased the availability of pediatric COVID-19 vaccines, making access widely available at pharmacies, physician offices and Alberta Health Services clinics, Copping said.
“We do know that when additional surveys were done, roughly one-third of the parents in Alberta were interested in getting their kids vaccinated. We’ve surpassed that,” Copping said.
“But I do know that when we compare ourselves to other jurisdictions, we are one of the lowest in the country and I’d like to reach the average for the country and this is one step in that direction, providing easier access for parents to get their kids vaccinated.”
Copping said surveys have previously shown “more reluctance” among parents in this province to get their children vaccinated.
Some parents “are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he said. Other parents whose children have contracted COVID-19 during the Omicron wave are holding back on getting them vaccinated, he said.
“But, again, I would urge all parents that the best protection — even if somebody has actually had COVID — is to get vaccinated. I urge them to do so. And hopefully the changes that we’ve announced here will make it easier and increase the vaccination rates.”
Wider access to vaccines for children
From March 2 to March 16, 97 AHS clinics will provide vaccines for children aged five to 11 on a walk-in basis. The service may continue after March 16 if there is enough demand, said a news release.
Hours at AHS clinics for appointments and walk-ins will be 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. weekdays, and noon until 6 p.m. weekends. Locations can be found online at albertahealthservices.ca.
About 150 pharmacies and some physician offices will also offer pediatric vaccines starting March 2. Some of the pharmacies may offer the vaccines on a walk-in basis.
The pharmacies are in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray and some rural communities. The focus will be on areas with under-vaccinated populations of children ages five to 11, the government said.
Information about pharmacies offering COVID-19 vaccinations for children is at ab.bluecross.ca.
Parents and guardians can book appointments for children ages five and older online by using the Alberta vaccine booking system or by calling 811.
Numbers updated from weekend
Another 53 Albertans with COVID-19 died between Friday and Tuesday, data released Wednesday shows. Alberta has now recorded a total of 3,883 deaths related to COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, there are 1,373 people in hospital, down from 1,380 on Tuesday.
There are 90 patients in intensive care, down from 95 on Tuesday.
The province said 817 cases were diagnosed on Friday, 520 on Saturday, 509 on Sunday, 497 on Monday and 791 on Tuesday.
The Alberta government is expected to announce on Saturday whether it will proceed with Step 2 of its plan to lift public health restrictions. The changes, if approved, would become effective on March 1.