Northeast councillor Chahal takes aim at COVID vaccine hesitancy

Chahal said Thursday that the information is broad enough for anyone, but he also wants to address uncertainty and misinformation he’s been hearing in his ward

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The city councillor for Calgary’s farthest northeast neighbourhoods is taking the issue of vaccine hesitancy into his own hands, rolling out resources to help spread accurate information about COVID-19 vaccination from trusted sources in their own communities.

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal hosted a virtual town hall Wednesday night, quizzing a panel of doctors about the four COVID-19 vaccines currently approved by Health Canada and what the public needs to know about them. They touched on common questions about side-effects and effectiveness, and urged Calgarians to get whatever vaccine is offered to them as soon as they can.

Over about two hours, Chahal also spoke to panels of faith leaders, front-line workers and members of Calgary’s sports community, who related their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and underlined the importance of getting vaccinated.

  1. Commuters at the Rundle CTrain station. A researcher believes COVID-19 rates are higher in northeast Calgary because more people are exposed to the virus as they use public transit to get to work.

    With its high concentration of essential workers, northeast Calgary vulnerable to COVID-19

  2. Volunteers and families fill food hampers as Centre for Newcomers (CFN) is pleased to announce that the partnership efforts of the Calgary East Zone Newcomers Collaborative (CENC) have been feeding the most vulnerable community members in
East Calgary. Dec. 30, 2020.

    Community agencies encouraged by uptick in COVID-19 supports by northeast Calgary residents

Chahal said Thursday that the information is broad enough for anyone, but he also wants to address uncertainty and misinformation he’s been hearing in his ward.

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“I’m going to use the platform I have, my time, my energy, to make sure we get this message out,” he said.

“I’ve already had a number of people saying, ‘I saw your town hall . . . I wasn’t sure, but now I’m going to go get vaccinated.’ That’s one more person who is taking their own health and wellness into consideration, but also the health and wellness of others in our community.”

More than 50,000 people have tested positive for COVID in Calgary since the pandemic began. But the northeast communities Chahal represents have been hit especially hard. At some points during the second wave, there were upwards of 1,300 active COVID infections per 100,000 population in the Alberta Health Services division of upper northeast Calgary. That was nearly three times the rate for the city as a whole at the time.

Social inequities contribute to those higher rates. Northeast Calgary is home to many newcomers to Calgary, and they’re more likely to work in front-line service jobs as well as live in multi-generational households.

Northeast Calgary Vaccine Townhall

Join Ward 5 Councillor George Chahal, medical experts, and guests from various backgrounds for an open and in-depth conversation about the COVID-19 vaccines, including facts and myths, information about distribution, and life after the pandemic.

Posted by George Chahal on Wednesday, April 7, 2021

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Last year, 17 social agencies banded together to create the Calgary East Zone Newcomers Collaborative to make sure people in east Calgary could get the help they needed during the pandemic, whether that was a food hamper, income support or assistance finding a place to isolate if they were sick.

They set up a toll-free number that residents could call for access to information in 30 different languages. Centre for Newcomers CEO Anila Lee Yuen said they helped about 800 people per week, and drove COVID infections down.

But cases in the northeast are still high compared to elsewhere in the city: active COVID-19 rates are sitting just below 400 per 100,000 people in lower northeast Calgary, and in the upper northeast the number is slightly less than 450.

At the same time, the accelerating third wave and the spread of more transmissible variants means other parts of Calgary are getting hit hard, too. Calgary centre, which overlaps with downtown and some neighbourhoods in the core, has an active case rate of 445 per 100,000 population.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi also spoke during Chahal’s online session. Nenshi said the current COVID numbers are scary, and people need to continue with all the health precautions they’ve been taking since the pandemic began until vaccination uptake increases.

Given what Alberta has been through over the past year, with more than 150,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,005 deaths, Nenshi said he’s been surprised to hear from some people that haven’t personally known anyone who’s gotten sick.

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“I think that here in our South Asian communities, in our Muslim, Sikh and Punjabi communities, here in northeast Calgary, I would be very surprised if there’s anyone in my neighbourhood who doesn’t know someone who has passed away from COVID,” he said.

“I think I know a dozen people personally who have passed away from COVID in the last year.”

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Chahal also put together a series of videos answering common questions about COVID-19 vaccination, with experts offering information in six languages: English, Tagalog, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi and Amharic.

He said those voices can send a powerful message to their own communities.

“It’s extremely important to have your community leaders, your faith leaders, talk about their experiences,” he said. “There’s trust there.”

While health isn’t strictly under the city’s purview, Chahal said he sees value in making sure information about COVID — and how to stop it — is broadcast far and wide. Fellow councillors Druh Farrell and Diane Colley-Urquhart also shared their experiences with getting vaccinated.

“I think it’d be that much more powerful if leaders in our community, elected officials, would use their platform to do the same, to get the correct information out to the public,” Chahal said.

masmith@postmedia.com

Twitter: @meksmith

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