BOW VALLEY – Alberta Health Services is encouraging all Bow Valley residents 18 years and older to get vaccinated.
Health officials say the Alberta government has deployed enough additional vaccine supply to support the Town of Banff, which is a COVID-19 hotspot, and neighbouring Canmore and surrounding areas in the valley.
“With an increase in COVID-19 cases, including the more contagious variant strains, local residents are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated for their own protection, and to protect their families and communities," according to s statement.
The announcement will mean about 80 per cent of valley residents are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
The move comes after lobbying from local municipal governments and Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin.
“If everybody 30 and over got a vaccination in Banff, we’d be at 60 per cent of our population; 20 and over we’d be at 83 per cent and with 18, let’s be optimistic, 80 per cent of our populations can be vaccinated,” Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said.
Canmore Mayor John Borrowman was equally excited about news of the vaccine age being lowered for the region.
“It’s really great news for Canmore and residents. It’s of upmost of importance to the Town of Banff. It’s important we get a jump on this. What’s happening in Alberta is discouraging," he said.
"I’m really really heartened that the residents in the Bow Valley 18 and over can get the vaccine. I’m sure the uptake will be strong and that’ll help make all out communities stronger and healthier.”
Borrowman added while there’s still to be difficult times in the coming months - particularly for local businesses - there’s a light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines get out to more people.
“We’re coming into the busier season for businesses. It’s been very tough for them and I expect the restrictions will be strong for some time, but with this news there’s reason to be more optimistic this year for the Bow Valley.”
The Town of Banff also made the rare ask of telling visitors to avoid coming to the region until the ongoing COVID-19 spike is better under control.
“It’s sort of odd for a tourism community to say this is the time to stay away, but we have to show leadership in our community by how we communicate,” said Councillor Peter Poole, who expressed a hope the province would provide more travel restrictions such as in British Columbia, Ontario and the Maritime provinces.
Premier Jason Kenney introduced stronger public health restrictions Tuesday (May 4) as COVID-19 cases threaten to overwhelm the province’s healthcare system.
The medical community in Banff has also be vocal in the need for additional restrictions to protect residents amidst the third wave of COVID-19.
“Municipal governments can mitigate shortfalls in provincial measures by using tools and regulations within their power to reduce local COVID-19 infections,” Dr. Vamini Selvanandan, the chair elect of the Canadian Public Health Association and a Banff doctor, said in a letter to Town of Banff council.
“Last year, for example, the Town of Banff introduced a masking bylaw well ahead of the province.”
Officials with the Town of Banff also expressed concern despite the high number confirmed COVID-19 cases, there was an underreporting of the actual number since many workers in the town have healthcare cards from other provinces.
The Stone Nakoda Nation in Morley have also seen an increase of cases, with Indigenous Services Canada warning anyone who had attended a public gathering in the past 10 days to be tested for a possible COVID-19 exposure.
“We are very concerned about the high number of cases of COVID-19 in Morley,” said Dr. Chris Sarin, deputy medical officer of health in a letter to community members.
“We understand this is a difficult time, but continued adherence to all public health guidelines is important in limiting the spread of COVID-19.”
All appointments must be booked to receive a vaccine.
Until May 10, if you are 18 to 29 years of age, people call Health Link at 811 to book your immunization appointment. If you are 30 years of age or older, you can book an appointment online at https://www.alberta.ca/vaccine or by calling 811.
Immunization eligibility will also expand on May 10 to include Albertans age 12 to 29. At that time, appointments for this age group can be booked online or by calling 811, or at any participating pharmacy.
Meanwhile, additional vaccine clinics scheduled at the Fenlands recreation centre in Banff from May 17-20. Call 811 to book an appointment. or try booking online.
As of May 5, there were 95 active cases in Banff and Lake Louise and another 50 active cases in Canmore.
Province-wide there are 24,156 active cases, with 666 people in hospital, including 146 patients in intensive care units. Since the start of the pandemic, 2,102 people have died from COVID-19.
- With files from Greg Colgan