Two weeks into the roll out of Alberta’s fall immunization campaign, there are concerns uptake may not be keeping pace with the spread of COVID-19 and influenza.
The province’s respiratory virus dashboard began reporting immunization statistics for this season on Thursday evening.
It shows 358,741 Albertans (7.9 per cent) had the rolled up their sleeves for the flu shot as of Oct. 21. By the end of last year’s flu season, immunization coverage topped out at 28 per cent.
COVID-19 vaccine uptake is lower, with a total of 236,649 (5.2 per cent) having received those shots.
“What we’ve seen is a pretty steep uptake since these clinics opened,” said Craig Jenne, professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.
“[But] they’re still nowhere near the level we need for a degree of community protection.”
In both cases, the vast majority of doses were distributed last week (Oct. 16 – 21), when the general public first had access to the shots. Care homes had an earlier roll out.
The Calgary and Edmonton zones had the highest vaccination rates for both illnesses and pharmacies gave out the lion’s share of doses.
Jenne is particularly concerned about the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We know COVID is in the community. We know those cases have been escalating quite rapidly at hospitals. … So it’s probably more pressing to get that number up to at least the level we are seeing with the flu shots.”
He points to provincial data showing 113 Albertans have died due to COVID-19 since the end of August, including seven people under the age of 60. Seven of the 57 ICU admissions have been people under the age of 20.
“This is not simply that the older people in Alberta need to get vaccinated. This is a vaccine that’s protective across multiple age groups,” Jenne said. “We really need to see those numbers start ticking up if we want to avoid significant illness over the holidays.”
Jenne warned the number of COVID deaths reported since the end of August alone rivals the number of influenza deaths the province sees in some entire flu seasons.
Alberta’s latest COVID vaccine roll out has been bumpy. The provincial government increased a limit on the number of doses pharmacies could order per week, after concerns were raised about cancelled appointments.
But some pharmacists continued to report supply issues during the second week of the immunization campaign.
Alberta’s COVID positivity rate remains high at 17.8 per cent. A total of 1,214 people have been hospitalized since the end of August.
When it comes to influenza, 51 people have been hospitalized so far this season and one person has died.
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