More front-line workers are pushing the Alberta government to be included in Phase 2 — even as part of an expanded Phase 2A — of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
In a statement Thursday, the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police (AACP) and the Alberta Federation of Police Associations (AFPA) asked “that additional thought is given in expanding Phase 2 to include frontline first responders.”
The police organizations thanked Dr. Deena Hinshaw, her team and the province for its work in response to the pandemic and acknowledged decisions around the vaccine rollout are complex and challenging.
“First responders play a critical role on the frontlines of the pandemic, frequently interacting with the public and our province’s most at-risk and vulnerable populations,” read the statement, which is signed by EPS Chief and AACP President Dale McFee and AFPA President Curtis Hoople.
“Regardless of the additional hazards COVID-19 poses, they must continue their usual duties on top of enforcement and education surrounding Public Health Orders.
“In most cases, service demands placed on our frontline first responders have increased significantly over the course of the pandemic.
“Timely vaccination not only assists in mitigating any adverse effects the virus may have on staffing and service levels, but also helps ensure the safety of personnel and the general public with whom they regularly interact.”
The Edmonton Police Association represents about 2,000 members “who work 24/7, 365 days a year and respond and interact with hundreds of people daily.”
The association said members have been diligent with protecting themselves from potential exposure but still, 139 members have either contracted COVID-19 or have had to isolate due to public interactions to date.
“This is 139 too many especially when there is an opportunity to have our front-line members vaccinated,” EPA president Michael Elliot said in a March 11 letter to the premier.
The EPA cited the Feb.  rally at the legislature grounds as an example of members having to interact with hundreds of protesters “who were not following Alberta Health Services and government of Alberta guidelines and placed themselves in a situation where they may have been exposed.
“Your government has set the rules and regulation for all Albertans to adhere and you anticipate and expect the members of the Edmonton police and other police members across the province to uphold,” Elliot said.
In a statement Thursday, the province said eligibility in Phase 2 is based on protecting those at highest risk of severe outcomes.
“We recognize that many, many people would benefit from receiving the vaccine, and we want to offer it to them as soon as possible. Unfortunately, due to the limited vaccine supply that is available in Alberta, we must continue to target individuals who are most at risk of severe outcomes,” the statement read.
“As new vaccines are approved and supply becomes available to Alberta, people between the ages of 18 and 64 who work in specific workplaces or industries may be included in Phase 2.”
Currently, Phase 2A, which is scheduled to begin March 15, includes:
- Albertans turning 65 to 74, no matter where they live
- First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) people aged 50 and older, no matter where they live
- Staff and residents of licensed supportive living (seniors) not included in Phase 1
The rest of Phase 2 is broken up into parts (B, C, D) and is scheduled for April to June.
- Albertans aged 18 to 64 with high-risk underlying health conditions
- Specific conditions will be provided prior to roll-out
On March 4, Hinshaw said health officials are still working to determine which conditions would fall in this group.
“We’re looking at published literature, we’re looking at our own data from the past year to understand which of those conditions are those that do pose a significantly higher risk of severe outcomes,” she explained.
“Once that final list is verified we’ll be able to share that.”
- Residents and staff of eligible congregate living settings: correctional facilities, homeless shelters, group homes including disability, mental health and other types of licensed supportive living
- Health-care workers providing direct and acute patient care who have a high potential for spread to high risk individuals
- Caregivers of Albertans who are most at risk of severe outcomes
Phase 2D (also see Phase 2: AstraZeneca for earlier access):
- Albertans aged 50 to 64, no matter where they live
- First Nations, Métis and Inuit people aged 35 to 49 on and off reserve or Métis Settlements
Since the AstraZeneca vaccine is not recommended for people over 65 years old, Alberta has also been offering that vaccine to people born between 1957 and 1971, opening appointments in stages, by birth year.
The province is rolling out eligibility for its current 58,000 doses of AstraZeneca. That phase started March 10.
Last week, some Alberta community physicians also wrote to the premier and health minister, asking that they be included in Phase 2A of the vaccination rollout.
The letter was sent March 2 from the group Alberta Doctors for Patients. It was signed by dozens of community physicians.
“It is imperative that the government prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for the approximately 11,000 Alberta community care physicians and their clinic staff,” the letter begins.
“We appreciate the scarcity of resources when it comes to the vaccine.
“Now that Alberta Health has almost completed vaccinations of our most vulnerable Albertans and healthcare workers, we feel it is time to look towards minimizing community spread further, decreasing the burden of care on emergency departments and hospitals and building better relationships with vaccine hesitant Albertans,” the letter states.
“We believe that vaccinating the community care physicians would get us closer to this goal.”
The letter goes on to say this has been a difficult year for all Albertans, and community doctors have pushed on, tried to remain present and accessible to their patients, in spite of various obstacles, cuts, and personal risk.
The letter says Alberta doctors are seeing patients in-person, noticing increasing acuity in medical conditions and are helping lower the burden on emergency departments, hospitals and ICUs.
Vaccinating community care doctors would “further limit community spread” and shorten the time away from work doctors have to take if they develop symptoms.
“Finally, because trust is at the centre of a community care physician relationship with patients, we remain strong influences on patients’ uptake of vaccines,” the letter continues.
“We believe those that are vaccine hesitant would be more likely to get vaccinated if they have a good conversation about it with their community care doctor who themselves got the vaccine.”
Several other groups have pushed for vaccination prioritization, including teachers, those with disabilities, health-care students and critical infrastructure workers like police, fire and transit workers.
Hinshaw has said many times that there are lots of groups who would benefit from getting the vaccine earlier but doses are currently a scarce resource, so different elements have to be taken into account to ensure the vaccine is being allocated in an ethical way.
She has said that whether or not a specific sector is included in a priority group isn’t a reflection on the value of the work and service it offers.
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