The rising R value of COVID-19 in Alberta along with the violent and leading rate of hesitation in vaccines are two signs that the province’s battle to defeat the pandemic still faces hurdles to overcome, says an infectious disease expert in Calgary.
The Alberta-wide R-value – which represents the number of people infected by each infected person – increased to 0.84 from July 5 to July 11.
This is higher than the period before that, when the R value was 0.75. The rate is calculated once every two weeks.
Meanwhile, a poll released on Wednesday by the Angus Reed Institute showed that vaccine frequency is more common in Alberta than in the rest of the country.
The survey found that one in five Albertans still wouldn’t want to get a shot — twice the national average.
“We urgently need to promote better vaccine uptake,” said Craig Jane, associate professor at the University of Calgary in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases.
“We actually rank the deceased last in Canada, out of all the provincial and territorial jurisdictions, in terms of vaccination. So we have the lowest vaccination rate in the country.”
According to the survey, the frequency in British Columbia was 12 percent, and in Ontario and Quebec only 9 percent.
“Frequency appears to be a more significant problem regionally, jumping to 22 percent of the population in Alberta, and 15 percent each in Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” the institute’s poll report said.
The institute noted that frequency has decreased in both Alberta and Saskatchewan since the beginning of the year, when the rate was 45 percent in Alberta and 26 percent in its eastern neighbor.
Jane says reluctance to take vaccinations has always been a phenomenon in Alberta, which in the past has led to outbreaks of preventable vaccines for things like whooping cough.
“This is a barrier in Alberta and we have to keep working to reduce it,” he said.
Jane said that while there are some encouraging trends — such as the number of daily cases remaining relatively low and hospitalizations currently below 100 — there are others that are worrisome.
One key measure, the positivity rate — the number of positive tests divided by the number of total tests on a given day, multiplied by 100 to give a percentage — has been steadily declining since spring. But it jumped to 1.24 percent on July 19.
On July 10, it fell to just 0.50 percent, its lowest level since last summer.
And while daily case numbers remain relatively low, they are now creeping higher after hovering in the low 30s for several days. 69 new cases were reported on Tuesday.
“It looks like the virus is starting to spread again,” Jane said. “This is somewhat concerning, and certainly something we have to watch and be prepared to respond to.”
“And I’m not advocating lockdowns or shutdowns, but we have to look and say, if we see the bulk of the transmission of the virus happening in that particular segment, or this activity, are there any things we can do to help reduce that … they shouldn’t be Black and white, absolute limitations.”
Also of concern, Jane said, was that serology reports indicated during the third wave that only three to four percent of Albertans had been exposed to the virus.
“So this still indicates that for that unvaccinated group, there is very little protection there.
If all the hospitalizations we’ve seen, the loss of life were only coming from four or five percent of Albertans being infected, we still have about 40 percent without a vaccine.”
“So we have to be careful that these people are still somehow protected from the virus even if they haven’t been vaccinated, and the only way to do that is to keep the number of cases down.”
The Angus Reid Institute poll also asked respondents if they supported the idea of vaccine passports to prove that a person has been vaccinated in order to attend certain events, travel or return to work.
“The majority of Albertans support this type of air travel policy, but are less supportive of local implementation,” the institute said in its survey.
While 77 percent of people in Ontario and 83 Quebecers said they would support vaccination passports on a commercial flight, only 55 percent of respondents in Alberta agreed with the idea.
Only 43 percent of Albertans said they would be willing to show proof of vaccination to go to work, compared to 64 percent among respondents in Ontario and 61 percent nationally.
The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey July 9-13 among a representative random sample of 2,040 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum.
Online surveys do not have a margin of error that can be accurately calculated. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size might carry a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The margin of error is greater when looking at the results at the district level.