With some of the highest cases of COVID-19 being recorded in southeastern Alberta since the pandemic began, officials are urging residents in rural areas with the lowest rates of vaccinations to get the shot.
“The delta variant is spreading quite rapidly and is a concern for everybody in Alberta. The best way to protect yourself is to get immunized,” said Dr. Allison Gonsalves of Alberta Health Services officer of health. “That’s the number one tool.”
Since the beginning of August, Medicine Hat has been a regional epicentre of rising case numbers, recording more than 500 active cases. Its regional hospital declared an outbreak after 15 hospital staff and doctors became infected.
The Cardston Health Centre and Crowsnest Pass Health Centre have also declared outbreaks.
Cypress County, which borders Medicine Hat, is also seeing cases rise but Gonsalves highlighted vaccination rates in the nearby Municipal District of Taber and the County of Forty Mile as municipalities of concern.
The Municipal District of Taber has less than 40 percent of its population with a single vaccination and 34 percent fully vaccinated.
Those rates are even lower in neighbouring County of Forty Mile, where 34 percent have a single shot and less than 28 percent have two doses.
“We’re still trying to figure out how to go about getting these folks engaged and having them trust the vaccine. We don’t really know what is holding them back,” said Gonsalves, adding the vaccination rates mirror those for non-COVID inoculations.
That includes childhood vaccinations.
“It’s a question of our public health team really getting out there and trying to determine how we can help these individuals see that COVID immunization is important and it’s an important tool especially as we face the delta variant,” said Gonsalves.
So far, the number of those infected remains relatively low in the MD of Taber and County of Forty Mile with 18 and three active cases respectively for the week ending Aug. 20.
But Cypress County, which shares a border with both communities, has seen cases rise to 86 over the same period with an infection rate of 761 per 100,000 — one of the highest rates in Alberta.