COVID-19 hotspots Banff and Wood Buffalo ask for vaccination priority

CALGARY — The two regions in Alberta with the highest rate of active COVID-19 cases are asking the provincial government for help. 

Banff and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo have both requested more vaccines be sent in their direction to help fight a drastic increase in cases. 

“About 52 per cent of our population is not eligible right now from that 18 to 40-year-old demographic for a vaccine,” Silvio Adamo, Banff’s director of emergency management told CTV News.

“When we have significant visitation still continuing and workers exposed, it becomes an issue.”

Both regions have active case counts above 1,200-per-100,000 people. Per capita, that’s about two-and-a-half times as many cases as Calgary. 

A lot of that spread can be chalked up to the population in the area. 

Banff has long been a town that runs on tourism and a seasonal workforce. Wood Buffalo — which encompasses Fort McMurray and dozens of oilsands camps — is similar. 

Many workers in both regions are in tight living conditions.

Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that a “lot of that (spread) seems to come from staff dorms … with socializing attached to that.”

But despite recognizing the issue, Kenney’s government has yet to commit to a targeted vaccination approach. 

The province will meet with Wood Buffalo leaders on Tuesday, but could only promise help when it comes to delivering and administering the shots — not supply. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro blamed the provincial stockpile of shots. 

There’s evidence in other Canadian municipalities that a hot spot immunization approach can be successful. 

It’s recently been adopted in Manitoba and in Ontario, but it’s the province of B.C. that shows the strategy works. 

Case numbers out of Prince Rupert drastically dipped after that area’s population was offered a chance to jump the vaccine queue. 

Early results out of Whistler — which is very similar to Banff in both population age and workforce — are largely positive. 

“It can make sense to pivot to this approach where we vaccinate according to need versus just according to vulnerability,” said pediatric infectious disease specialist Cora Constantinescu.

“But you need both approaches: one of restrictions and one of vaccination.”

Banff and Wood Buffalo are currently under the same eligibility requirements as the rest of Alberta. 

That means members of the general population should expect their shots sometime before the end of June.

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