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Rural vaccine rates a concern for AHS

·2 min read

Southern Alberta is seeing disproportionate rates of vaccination in rural and urban centres.

Few rural counties or municipal districts surrounding Medicine Hat have first-dose vaccination rates higher than 60%, and some have yet to reach 50%. Whereas, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge both report more than 70% of total population with at least one shot, with the Hat reporting 73.9%, or 50,359 people, and Lethbridge reporting 77.1%, 78.1% and 77.1% in the west, south and north parts of the city, respectively.

The areas with the lowest vaccination rates in southern Alberta are Fort Macleod (South Willow Creek Municipal District), County of Lethbridge, County of Warner, with less than 60%. Taber Municipal District sits at 47.8% and County of Forty Mile just passed the 40% threshold at 41.2%.

Alberta Health Services doesn’t offer reasoning behind the rural/urban disparity, but did confirm in a release it would be working toward raising rural vaccination rates.

“AHS continues to partner with rural communities and specific populations throughout the province, including Indigenous partners, to provide immunization clinics across Alberta,”the Thursday release read.

“In rural communities, municipal leadership within each community has worked in conjunction with AHS to create better access to the vaccine, reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase immunization rates. This includes ensuring clinics are arranged in accessible locations and providing clinics in a culturally sensitive manner to community groups, including through supportive translation and volunteers.”

AHS puts special emphasis on education and outreach opportunities as well as community partnership with medical professionals, employers and religious leaders.

“Pharmacies and physicians throughout the province have been key in helping ensure access to the vaccine to those living in rural areas,” the release read. “Local immunization clinics include both pre-booked and walk-in appointment options ... To encourage uptake among all age groups, family attendance at immunization clinics is encouraged. Home-bound individuals are able to receive their immunizations in a special home-bound program.”

With the latest rollout of pediatric vaccines, AHS has “launched a new COVID-19 immunization for children webpage (ahs.ca/vaccinekids), to provide parents, guardians and families with current information and resources to help them make an informed decision about immunization.”

Regardless of vaccination status, Albertans are required to continue wearing masks in public areas and are encouraged to socially-distance and wash their hands frequently.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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