Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is clarifying a statement she made Thursday, after concerns were raised regarding a plea for health-care workers to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
During Alberta’s COVID-19 update Thursday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said there were still about 16,000 vaccination appointments available for eligible health-care workers this weekend. Shandro, along with Dr. Deena Hinshaw, urged eligible workers to book appointments as soon as possible.
“There are still available bookings for eligible health-care workers this weekend. As of this (Thursday) morning, we had only 671 appointments on Saturday and 128 booked on Sunday,” Hinshaw said Thursday.
“If you were an eligible health-care worker who has not yet been immunized, please check your email and book your appointment as soon as possible. This will help protect your patients, your colleagues and yourselves.”
Hinshaw then took to Twitter to relay the same message. However, some read the message as a sign of hesitancy among health-care workers to get the jab.
Those who work in health care say that’s simply not the case but worry that some read it that way.
“I think it was neutrally phrased but it could be read — and was read — by some as health-care workers were either not interested in vaccination or dragging their feet about vaccination,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert from the University of Alberta.
She added she thought that was “extremely unlikely to be true.”
“The implication that health-care workers might be hesitating is damaging if anyone could read it that way. And I personally didn’t see that take of it but it does look like some people did. Whereas in fact, if anything, health-care workers are extremely keen to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Saxinger said.
“It’s almost unseemly how keen people are to get it because people are getting to the point of saying, ‘Who’s at the highest risk? I think I’m a pretty high risk. How come I’m not next?’ So you know what, there’s a bit of jostling for position in some way, which tells me that people really have confidence in the safety of the vaccine.”
Danielle Larivee, the first vice president of the United Nurses of Alberta, said it’s not a case of health-care workers not wanting to get the vaccine, but admits there have been barriers to making it happen.
“There’s people who are on the eligibility list who aren’t getting emails. There’s people who shouldn’t be eligible who are getting the emails. There’s people getting the emails with invalid links.
“There’s people calling and saying there’s no vaccine then getting the call and saying yes there is but they have to travel a couple of hours to get it. It’s been pretty clear that there’s chaos and disorganization in terms of rolling it out,” she said.
“This really in no way should be implied as falling back on health-care workers being hesitant. It really is about using the organizational capacity of AHS to pull together all these details and rolling it out.”
Others replied to Hinshaw’s call, saying they are eligible for a vaccine but have yet to receive an email from Alberta Health Services to book their appointment. According to AHS, in order for eligible staff and physicians to make a booking, they need to use a unique link, which is provided via email.
In a statement Friday, AHS noted that it experienced a technical issue with its online booking tool for a short period on Thursday night. The issue has since been fixed and the tool is functioning normally, AHS said.
“I kind of made the immediate assumption that there was a glitch in the system because I know lots of people who are in the first cohort that’s meant to be vaccinated that have been waiting for their emails with the link,” Saxinger said.
“It seems like it was a bit of tempest in a teapot.”
Hinshaw also took to Twitter again Friday morning to set the record straight.
“I’ve heard some questions and concerns from yesterday’s call for eligible health-care workers to book vaccines,” she said. “You have done remarkable work for many months, caring for Albertans when they need it most. Thank you for the work you do every day.”
Hinshaw went on to say that given the uncertainty with vaccine supply into Alberta, AHS is actively pushing to book appointments when it has vaccines available.
“They have doses available for this weekend, and we want every appointment to be filled if possible,” Hinshaw stated.
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Since putting out the call Thursday, AHS said more than 5,000 eligible staff and physicians have responded.
“COVID-19 immunization is taking place in phases as vaccine availability is available. We know that many health-care workers want to be vaccinated as soon as possible and we are working to offer vaccine as soon as possible,” AHS said.
“We have vaccine supply for this weekend. But we need more vaccine.”
Larivee acknowledge the large task at hand, but added more needs to be done to ensure a smooth rollout.
“First of all, we had Jason Kenney’s tweets saying there wasn’t enough vaccine and they were having to cancel appointments,” she said.
“Next thing we know we have Dr. Hinshaw saying there’s 16,000 appointments that were somewhere in the province that somehow health-care workers were supposed to take advantage of and it’s really leaving health-care workers feeling confused and frustrated.
“I want to see AHS put the resources into dealing with the logistical issues.
“It is a huge project and huge projects require a lot of resources. We need to be sure that they’re dealing with all of these challenges and ensuring they’re able to successfully communicate with each other around who’s eligible and make sure that the people who are eligible are supported to get immunized as soon as possible.”
As of 11:30 a.m. Friday, AHS said appointments for this weekend remained available in all zones.
Any eligible health-care worker who hasn’t received a vaccination email from AHS can also call HealthLink, where AHS said staff are working “as efficiently as possible to address each individual.”
As of Jan. 13, 66,953 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta.
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