Polling suggests about one in 10 adult Albertans will remain vaccination holdouts despite the government’s best efforts, says Premier Jason Kenney.
“There’s just no persuading them. But right now we’re at 75 per cent of the eligible population who have been vaccinated and we figure we can get that up to 80 per cent, maybe a little bit higher,” said Kenney, who was in Red Deer on Tuesday to celebrate O’Chiese First Nation’s purchase of the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre.
“It’s a game of inches right now. We call it our ground game.”
Kenney said the holdouts are not so much anti-vaccine as people who put a low priority on getting a shot.
Most are working Albertans in the 20 to 40-year-old age bracket, who often don’t have prescriptions, a family doctor and otherwise have had little little contact with the health system.
“We’ve got to make it easier for them,” he said.
The vaccination lottery offering three $1 million tickets and other prizes, including trips, has been one initiative.
“Rural areas are under-vaccinated so we’re going to have mobile clinics. We have buses that are going to go out in some of the more remote rural areas.
“We’re doing everything we can to make it as convenient as possible and just keep educating people as well. I think we also need to do a better job of responding to some of the misconceptions.
“I know that there are some younger women who have hard false information that this will affect their fertility etc. So, we’ve got to provide those people with information that debunks some of the myths that are circulating.
“I think by September we should be up over 80 per cent of eligible people vaccinated, which is a very strong number.”
The rapid spread of the Delta variant in the U.S., United Kingdom and a number of other European Union countries has some health officials worried it could lead to a spike in infections here in Alberta.
Kenney said infection numbers go up and down but the key remains vaccinating.
“What matters with vaccines is that we have largely de-coupled case numbers from severe outcomes like hospitalizations and deaths,” said Kenney. “That’s what you can see around the world.”
“The whole reason we brought in restrictions in Alberta was to protect our hospitals so they didn’t get overwhelmed. We could not tolerate a situation where we’d have to cancel all surgeries, empty out the hospitals only for COVID patients and then even to not care for some of them.
Now that more than 90 per cent of the population most at risk of COVID, those over 65, have been vaccinated “we’re confident that we will not see that kind of pressure on our hospital system.
“COVID is going to be around. The Spanish Flu of 1918 that killed 100 million people around the world continued to circulate until the 1950s.”
COVID is not different. It will be around for years and in some cases will make people sick or even kill them.
“But if we continue to drive up those vaccination efforts we can avoid the kinds of devastating restrictions we had to impose last year,” he said.
Meanwhile, Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s expansion remains on track, said the premier, who announced $100 million for the project last year with construction to start this year.
The planning has been complicated because it had to be determined what upgrades should be done first and how to shift patients while renovations are underway. But central Albertans can expect to construction begin this year.
“Modernizing a hospital is a complex piece of work. But we are absolutely committed to it,” he said, adding an announcement about progress will be coming in the “fairly near future.”
Kenney said Alberta is returning to prosperity.
“It’s true we’ve been through five tough years. But every bank and think tanks says Alberta is leading Canada in economic this year and next.”
Alberta has the youngest, best educated and employed population with the highest incomes.
“High tech, digital startups, venture capital, record numbers. Best year ever by far in film and television, whole new industries moving to Alberta like hydrogen. Right across the economy, this is the place to be.
“Why would you move to Vancouver or Toronto and double your cost of living, pay higher taxes for a lower quality of life when Alberta is going to be leading Canada in economic growth now and for a long time to come.
“I am very bullish about the economic future here and now that commodity prices have returned and we’re seeing a lot of diversification.”
Kenney talked about a recent Angus Reid poll that put his popularity rating lowest among Canada’s premiers in stride.
“There is no doubt as a government we got battered as a government in the pandemic.
“In Alberta, we had a unique polarization on public opinion as the best way to respond to the pandemic. We had a very large number of people who thought our government was too slow to bring in restrictions.
“But we also had a lot of people who, historically who are conservatives, who are opposed to pandemic restrictions. We were trying to navigate a safe and senisble middle ground position that didn’t please people at either of those ends of public opinion.”
The next election is two years away and with the end of the pandemic the government can now focus on economic development and getting Alberta a fair deal nationally.
“I think we can get as a province and a government very much back on track.”