Calgary-made vaccine coalition aims to build public confidence in COVID-19 shots

CALGARY — A group of health experts and advocates are working to address vaccine hesitancy as Albertans prepare for all COVID-19 restrictions to be removed on Canada Day.

They’re called 19 to Zero – a more than 500-member coalition launched at the University of Calgary last August.

Alberta Primary Care vaccine rollout lead and group chair, Dr. Jia Hu, says the goal is to build greater confidence in vaccines by engaging with others and shifting public perceptions around getting a COVID-19 shot.

“Getting vaccinated is incredibly important both to keep yourself and those around you safe and healthy and we know these vaccines are really highly effective at preventing COVID,” he said.

“It’s more important than ever to get a vaccine as quickly as possible because the Delta variant has a much stronger the rates of infection and the one thing that will keep us safe as restrictions ease and from any other subsequent waves, is vaccination.”

A group of volunteers gathered Sunday at Tomkins Park in Calgary to hand out COVID-19 vaccine information postcards and chat with young people about the importance of getting immunized. The cards feature information on how to get vaccinated a QR code which links to available vaccination appointments.

Among those attending Sunday’s event was vice-chair of 19 to Zero, Rachel Bensler.

The University of Alberta student hopes to build common ground especially with younger generations by acknowledging their concerns and validating their emotions surrounding vaccine hesitancy.

“I think for young people, we need to recognize that we’re a piece in a puzzle that is our entire society and as Canadians we’re part of a social contract to care for our most vulnerable,” she said.

“Some young people are having trouble booking appointments because maybe don’t know how to operate the website or they don’t have the time, but I’ve had a few conversations where people would be happy if there was walk-in clinics or pop up clinics, and they could just walk in and get the shot.”

In fact, four pop-up clinics in northeast Calgary had been offering first-dose drop in services this weekend and other similar initiatives are expected in the future.

Bensler adds that messaging for her campaign teams are kept as simple as possible by offering to share scientific factual information and tailoring recommendations to each person they speak with.

VACCINE HESITANCY

As of Sunday, 4,022,084 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the province of Alberta, which includes 71.3 per cent of the 12-year-old and above population having received a first dose.

So far, 34.3 per cent of Albertans 12-years-old and above have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

The numbers are encouraging, but the rate of first doses is beginning to slow.

While the majority of the Calgarians 19 to Zero volunteers spoke with on Sunday had a first dose or were fully vaccinated, some people still haven’t booked a shot.

People like Mathew Murphy for example have yet to receive a dose, but hope to get one soon after realizing the booking process doesn’t take as long as he thought.

“I just haven’t had time to go out and get a vaccine as I’m in the middle of moving locations, but I think everyone should get their vaccine and be healthy,” he said.

“I think people should also do their research and understand how vaccines work instead of neglecting this opportunity the government has given us right now.”

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