‘We need third doses in arms’: Alberta vaccine advocates call for expansion of booster dose eligibility

Vaccine advocates in Alberta are calling for an expansion of the eligibility for booster doses amid concerns over a strengthening variant of concern.

Officials opened up third doses to those aged 60 and up on Dec. 6, but some say this strategy is not working quickly enough.

According to vaccine advocacy group VaxHunterAB, some pharmacy appointments times are going unfilled which increases potential for doses to be wasted, and they are asking for additional age groups to be able to book in for those doses.

“What we want to see at this point is every appointment filled. Even if it means its harder to find an appointment it’s better at this point given the urgency and sort of this looming Omicron threat,” said Sarah Mackey. “It is better to have more people than appointments than more appointments than eligible people.”

Mackey says there needs to be an increase sense of urgency, but not panic, amid the new Omicron variant of concern that is changing the pandemic situation in jurisdictions around the world.

Many Alberta healthcare providers agree that booster doses will increase protection.

“Individuals who have only had two shots are at significant risk of contracting Omicron,” said Dr. Noel Gibney, critical care doctor and University of Alberta faculty.

Calgary physician Dr. Joe Vipond says understanding of the current vaccine program needs to change.

“Boosters aren’t a luxury, boosters are what we need now,” he said. “This is a three dose vaccine. We need third doses in arms.”

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Alberta Health says the province has enough vaccine supply for boosters for individuals older than age 60.

“Recognizing that age is the greatest risk factor for severe outcomes, Alberta has made appointments for boosters available based on age groups,” it read.

“The booster roll out is proceeding based on supply and anticipated uptake, and will be adjusted based on actual appointments.”

According to the most recent numbers from the province released Dec. 9, a total of 482,534 booster shots have been administered province-wide.

Albertans between 60 and 69 years old received 110,470 of the third doses and some proponents say there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to ramp things up. To put that into perspective, 437,314 Albertans in that age range are fully vaccinated.

Third shot booster eligibility in Alberta is currently limited to:

  • Those aged 60 or older;
  • All First Nations, Metis and Inuit adults;
  • Anyone living in an assisted living facility; as well as,
  • Anyone aged 12 or older who is immunocompromised.

Health Minister Jason Copping said earlier this month that the province hopes to open up third doses to everyone aged 18 and up early in the new year. When that happens will depend on supply, but the province has yet to update its timeline.

Approximately 85 per cent of Albertans aged 12 or up have had at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

With the potential for a fifth wave fuelled by the omicron variant, critics say opening booster shots to more people is vital.

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