Although COVID-19 cases in Alberta are somewhat reduced, two doctors treating rural patients say the fifth wave may be inevitable if people in those communities are not vaccinated as fast.
Provincial data shows that 78.3 percent of eligible Albertans, including those 12 and older, are fully vaccinated, and 86.4 percent have at least one shot.
But in at least 19 of the 63 municipalities in northern and southern Alberta, on average, 55 percent of residents have rolled up their sleeves for just one dose. In some of those areas, that rate is less than 40 percent.
According to a Monday update from Alberta Health Services, there are a total of 271 Alberta patients in the ICU.
821 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19. Of the 182 COVID patients in the ICU, 87.3 percent were either vaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Dr. Fitzgerald is a family physician at Maxwell Medical in Fort McMurray, Alta. Raman Kumar says the rural population is overrepresented in over-intensive care units “due to the high vaccine hesitation in them”.
“For example, here in Fort McMurray, we have significant problems because our intensive care units are overflowing with patients and we transport our patients to other communities,” Kumar said.
“Seven of us nurses were from Newfoundland [to Fort McMurray during the fourth wave], So Kovid is definitely a major, major problem for rural communities.
In High Level, one of the most northern municipalities in Alberta, 23 percent of residents have their first dose of vaccine.
The number is 39 percent in Forty Mile County in the South and 40 percent in Two Hills County, east-central Alberta.
If we do not achieve high vaccination rates in some areas, we risk the fifth wave and the sixth wave due to ongoing transmission.
On average, 55 percent of Albertans living in Manning, Peace River, Fairview, Spirit River, St. Paul and Lethbridge have their first dose.
“If we do not achieve high vaccination rates in some areas, we risk a fifth wave and a sixth wave due to ongoing transmission,” said Dr. Ramadan, a rural family health doctor working in Pincher Creek. Said Finola Hackett.
“As we saw with the fourth wave, the low vaccination rate did not protect them from COVID and delta mutations, so there is certainly a high risk in some rural areas.”
Hackett and Kumar say three key factors contribute to low vaccine intake in rural communities.
“I call them three Cs,” Hackett said.
“There is contentment, convenience, and the third is conspiracy.”
The ‘epidemic of misinformation’
Hackett said satisfaction can be found in some Albertsons who are “particularly young” in rural communities, saying they don’t want to get a shot because they believe they are healthy.
They tell them that the vaccine not only protects them from the virus but also reduces the risk of spreading it to others with compromised immunity.
Convenience is a matter of accessibility.
“Government and other partners send mobile clinics to some rural areas. This has helped … but there are still pockets of people with problems [transportation]. “
Hackett said the most common reason why Third C and rural Albertans don’t get vaccinated is “an epidemic of misinformation.”
“Sometimes … a small, tight community is sharing misinformation spreading fast,” he said. “Some rural areas that are more conservative have more distrust about any government program.”
Hackett and Kumar have visited numerous patients in rural Alberta, sometimes several times, and have been persuaded to vaccinate.
“I don’t think we get anywhere near working on frustration or polarization. It’s hard to find the patience and strength to understand why someone hesitates to be vaccinated,” Hackett said.
Doctors say they are helping to launch a new campaign in rural Alberta through the National Multilateral Coalition, 19 to Zero, which is working to change public perceptions around COVID-19 behaviors and build confidence in vaccines.
The campaign, “It’s Never Too Late,” features a video shot at an Alberta hospital. It shows the person breathing heavily when assessed and intubated and intensively included.
“I want to tell Albertans, heck, get the vaccine,” Kumar said.
“Let’s get back to normal life, and the way we can do it is to get our shot together.”
This story was produced with the financial support of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship, It is not involved in the editorial process.