Alberta’s mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic will keep rolling, following a new commitment of provincial cash for the service, which had previously been supported largely with private dollars.
The mobile service has been promoted by the Alberta government, and is viewed as an essential presence at postsecondary institutions and worksites. It has also been used for outreach in some rural areas, where vaccination rates are significantly lower than in the province’s cities.
The Alberta government said it has long contributed funding for the vaccine doses carried by the mobile clinic, and also for some of the costs of administering the shots. But the clinic’s organizers say the program was dependent on private funding, which was set to run out in the days ahead.
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“Most people don’t realize this bus is a privately financed venture,” said Jai Hu, a public-health doctor and professor at the University of Calgary who helped to establish the mobile clinic.
Much of the work has been done by the Industry for Vaccination Coalition, a Canadian industry group that uses private sector resources to increase vaccination rates. TRAXX Holdings Inc. has been providing a bus, Leduc-based ACESO Medical has been providing medical staff and Suncor Energy has been providing fuel.
On Wednesday, Alberta Health said it will provide funding to support the mobile clinic until further notice. The government department said it wasn’t able to provide any specifics on costs or dollar amounts.
“The VaxBus has proven to be a tremendous asset in getting Albertans vaccinated,” Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said in a tweet.
“The additional funding will go towards refining the model based on lessons learned over the past few months, as well as feedback from community organizations and businesses.”
The province’s health care system is overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. Nearly 1,100 people are in hospital with the virus – 268 of them in intensive-care units. Most of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. The situation is so dire for patients and health care workers that the Canadian Medical Association called Wednesday for lockdowns in Alberta and Saskatchewan to protect “two crumbling health care systems.”
Alberta’s cities have high vaccination numbers, but rates are significantly lower in some rural parts of the province. In the northwest corner of the Alberta – the High Level region – only about 30 per cent of those eligible have had at least one vaccine dose.
Dr. Hu, co-founder of 19 To Zero, a group at the University of Calgary that works to understand public perceptions of COVID-19, said in an interview that backers started requesting that the provincial government step in to help fund the two vehicles that make up the clinic – a bus and a Sprinter van – about a month ago.
“Operationally, we didn’t have funding past the first few days of October,” he said.
Communities or organizations can request visits from the mobile clinic, which can provide up to 300 vaccinations a day. But, as of Sept. 19, the clinic had administered far less than that maximum: 2,471 doses at 60 locations, according to a government news release.
“We haven’t delivered that many doses, but I still think it’s important to do this,” Dr. Hu said.
Dr. Hu added that he’s hopeful that new vaccine mandates, including Alberta’s Restrictions Exemption Program, will further increase vaccine uptake. Until now, there has been little organized work to promote vaccinations in rural areas, he said, but he hopes that will change as a result of a marketing project he’s working on, which will promote vaccinations in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
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