BANFF – The community of Banff will see a targeted effort to vaccinate its residents after a three-step change to Alberta's vaccination roll out was announced on Wednesday (April 28).
Minister of Health Tyler Shandro made the announcement on Twitter a change to vaccine distribution in the province would be made to target the communities of Wood Buffalo and Banff and Lake Louise for immunization.
"Today, I approved a three-step change to Alberta’s vaccine rollout to help protect residents in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Banff areas," wrote Shandro. "These areas are being hardest hit by the third wave, yet seeing lower than average vaccine coverage."
Shandro said when doses of the Janssen Pharmaceutical vaccines arrive, and as supply allows, they will be redirected to the Wood Buffalo and Banff areas. The expectation, according to the minister, is there will be 30,000 doses soon. Janssen is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson and is only a single dose.
He also said the eligibility age for AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines will be lowered to those 30 and older, while in nearby Indigenous communities the age for Moderna vaccines would be lowered to 30 and older as well.
"We have committed to getting vaccines out as quickly as possible and prioritizing those who are most at risk – and these changes are part of that," Shandro wrote.
Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen welcomed the news, saying she is happy the minister has recognized the unique needs of the community.
"I think it certainly responds to the messaging we have been putting forward," she said. "We have been advocating for them to look at Banff and our unique circumstances for a few weeks now."
Banff's per capita case count was the highest in the province last week at 1,025.9 per 100,000 people, only to be surpassed by Wood Buffalo. On Wednesday, Banff and Lake Louise had a per capita case rate of 1,159.7 and the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo was at 1,499.8 per 100,000 people.
Alberta Health reported 156 confirmed active cases for the Banff area, up from three just over a month ago; 58 for Canmore and four for the MD of Bighorn, which includes the hamlets of Harvie Heights, Exshaw, Dead Man's Flats, and portions of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
As of Monday (April 26), 1,449,922 doses of vaccine have been administered in the province. There were also 26.5 per cent of Albertans with at least one dose and 6.2 per cent fully immunized.
While the announcement means vaccines are on their way to Banff, it only opened up the ability to get them to those who are 30 and older.
According to the 2016 census, of Banff's total population of 7,850 the largest age group was 25-29 years old with 990 individuals counted, making up 12.6 per cent of the community. The second largest age group was 30-34 years old with 895 individuals counted during the census, 11.4 per cent of the community.
Sorensen said a high percentage of the population in Banff and Lake Louise are front-line workers in the hospitality industry and many reside in shared housing situations.
"This will certainly help the situation," she said. "As we move forward into the summer, we do have comment from the province they will monitor this and depending on vaccine availability, there is the possibility of future adjustments.
"We are really happy about the age being reduced for us and for Wood Buffalo to 30; it will make a big difference and it is a very positive outcome for us."
Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin has been advocating for Banff to be considered for its unique circumstances. In an email, Rosin acknowledged hospitality workers below the age of 30 are still not able to access a vaccine.
"I’ve already had a conversation with Minister Shandro’s Chief of Staff to potentially lower the age criteria to 20 from 30 in the coming weeks if many are still unable to register for their shot," she wrote.
"Conversations have also been had with Melanie Gnup from Kananaskis Improvement District to potentially include K-country residents in the mass vaccination program as well, as the bulk of their workforce live in similar situation to those in Banff."