Alberta’s COVID-19 booster uptake is trailing the rest of the country, and immunity is waning for many with just one or two vaccines.
Only 37 per cent of Albertans have rolled up their sleeves for a third shot — something experts believe could be problematic as another wave hits the country.
“Anybody who has had their dose more than four to six months ago has very little protection,” public health physician Jia Hu told CTV News. “So they need to think of the importance.”
Workers at Sage Plus Pharmacy in Inglewood say the disinterest has been noticeable.
“In January and February, we were fully booked every day, doing maybe two to three hundred (boosters) a week,” owner Joyce Choi said. “Now, we’re maybe doing 10 to 20 a week.”
And the doses don’t have unlimited shelf life.
“Throughout the week we’re wasting maybe 50 percent or so,” Choi said.
Health Canada says nearly 1.5 million vaccines have gone bad across the country this year, and tens of thousands more are set to join that tally next month.
There are reasons for the slow uptake.
“A lot of reasons,” Hu said. “People view Omicron as being less serious than Delta, and I think a lot of people don’t think the vaccine works as well preventing infection. It’s a serious disease we need to be thinking about.”
“A lot of people came by us and actually mentioned that they don’t need their vaccines anymore because there’s no more passport,” Choi added.
About 1.6 million Albertans have three shots. 53,000 have four.
“It is more of a challenge, I think, and a big part of that really is just a lack of concern,” Hu said. “Often when we use the word ‘hesitancy,’ I think it’s often like, ‘I don’t trust this vaccine.’ But I think from most people, it’s just sort of lower down the priority list as opposed to there being way more anti-vax sentiment.”
The premier says he thinks some of the current lag is coming from those who have recently caught the virus. NACI recommends they don’t receive a shot for 90 days.
A new provincial campaign could act as a friendly reminder as their time runs down.
“Antibodies plus the vaccine is the most effective way,” Premier Jason Kenney said. “The best way to ensure the worst is behind us is for people to stand up and get the third dose.”
Part of the campaign’s goal will be to reinforce basic messaging around effectiveness.
There should be no shortage of ways to do it.
Over the last four months, the unvaccinated were more than three times more likely to end up in hospital with COVID-19 than those who had all three shots.
Right now, only those above 70-years-old and any First Nations, Métis and Inuit people above 65 are eligible for a second booster.
Uptake there is also very low, but the province has yet to say when eligibility could expand.