COVID-19: Alberta looks to community physicians to boost 1st dose vaccine uptake

The health minister said Friday that Alberta physicians in regions where there is low COVID-19 vaccine uptake are being asked to help boost immunization coverage.

“Last Thursday, we issued a med bulletin, as it’s called, a notice that goes out to physicians through the ministry that provided a new code for physicians who are in a community that has a low vaccine uptake, for them to be able to go through their patient roster, reconcile with patient records, and if somebody hasn’t been vaccinated, be able to reach out to that patient, be able to explain the safety and efficacy, to encourage an opportunity this summer for those folks to get their vaccines,” Tyler Shandro said Friday.

Read more: Geographical differences in vaccination coverage prompt call from Alberta doctors to boost uptake

The bulletin was sent on July 2 and said the billing code can be applied retroactively for any call by a doctor to a patient in select areas that addressed concerns with the COVID-19 vaccine.

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“(It) may be claimed retroactively by all physicians who have called their patients via telephone or videoconference to address concerns related to COVID-19 vaccine by providing education or counselling between May 01, 2021 and June 21, 2021,” the memo, shared by the Alberta Medical Association, stated.

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The lower-uptake areas included are: Beaverlodge, Bonnyville, Calgary East, Calgary Lower NE, Calgary Upper NE, Cardston-Kainai, County of Forty Mile, Drayton Valley, Fairview, Frog Lake, High Level, High Prairie, Manning, Red Deer County, Rocky Mountain House, Spirit River, St. Paul, Taber MD, Two Hills County, Valleyview, Vermilion River County, Wabasca and Wood Buffalo.

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As of July 7, 73.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine and 52 per cent of eligible Albertans are fully vaccinated with two doses.

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However, coverage rates vary across the province.

In northern Alberta, for instance, just 15.2 per cent of people 12 and older in the High Level area have received at least one dose. In southern Alberta, in the County of Forty Mile, first dose coverage of eligible Albertans is 29.5 per cent.

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“We continue to push first doses,” Shandro said. “I think we’re darn near close to 75 per cent first dose coverage on a province-wide level. Calgary though — in our major urbans, we are much higher than that.”

Shandro said the province continues to work with Alberta Health Services, community pharmacies and community doctors on increasing vaccine uptake. He said the community outreach teams are also educating Albertans about hotel quarantine support, vaccine safety and efficacy, especially in areas where there tend to be multiple generations in one household.

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Another approach is offering vaccines at a pancake breakfast at the Calgary Stampede.

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“We have a partnership with the Calgary Stampede,” said Harry Yee, the chief operating officer of the Centre for Newcomers.

“We’re having a breakfast to encourage people to come out and have a pancake, but also get their vaccine shot.

“We’re only here for an hour, but by taking over this hour, we’re getting a good turnout,” Yee said. “Hopefully, we could get a lot of people vaccinated.”

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He hopes other organizations follow suit and offer vaccine in way that’s accessible.

“I don’t know if it’s resistance; I think it’s just the barriers, at least for newcomers, to get their vaccine.

“Language barriers, but also barriers to get out, finding the location of where to get your vaccine shot.”

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Read more: Doctor says Alberta needs to get creative, bring vaccine to people to boost 1st dose uptake

Shandro said while demand for first doses is slowing, people are still eager to get their second dose. He expects Alberta will reach 60 per cent second dose coverage “in the coming days.”

“One of the milestones in particular that Dr. Hinshaw has flagged for me is getting to 65 per cent second dose coverage.

“We’ve also seen some of what’s been announced by PHAC federally — the Public Health Agency of Canada — what they’re looking for before the federal government eases border restrictions.

“For us, the advice we’re getting from Dr. Hinshaw and her office is that they’re setting second dose coverage at 65 per cent,” Shandro said.

“I don’t see any concerns with getting to 65 per cent.”

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