Doctor says more outreach needed on east Calgary vaccination push

Village Square Leisure Centre was able to help more than 2,300 access their first COVID vaccine dose.

Village Square Leisure Centre clinic gave 2,300 Calgarians their first COVID vaccine dose over the weekend

Kulwinder Singh is adminstered vaccine from Dr. Yvonne Kangong at a pop-up clinic in Calgary. Almost 69 per cent of eligible Albertans have now been vaccinated. (Alberta Health Services)

Over the weekend, a pop-up vaccination clinic set up inside of the Village Square Leisure Centre helped nearly 2,300 Calgarians get their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. 

While the clinic didn't give out all 5,000 available Pfizer jabs, clinic medical lead Dr. Annalee Coakley said every dose is a win. 

"They came into the clinic because it was convenient, it was accessible to them," Coakley said. "They told us that they wouldn't have gotten the vaccination otherwise. So I feel like those two 2,300 that we did, that's a victory."

Calgary's northeast communities have consistently faced high rates of COVID-19, with concerns of vaccine accessibility.

As of Monday, zones in east Calgary, including the northeast, have vaccinated more than 50 per cent of the population compared to more than 60 per cent on the city's west side. 

Barriers to immunization

"There are a lot of barriers for the vulnerable population, language is one of them," said Calgary Immigrant Education Society CEO Sally Zhao. "A lot of people are working front-line, they are doing shift work." 

Addressing those barriers meant having volunteers and workers who could speak 72 different languages, transportation options, extended hours for shift work and a barrier-free approach — meaning those without health cards could participate in the clinic.

Overall, demand for first doses has gone down in Alberta, according to Premier Jason Kenney. At a press conference the Premier said just 100,000 appointments are booked over the next seven days, which could have implications for Alberta's reopening plans. 

Those who haven't gone for their first appointment may not all be vaccine hesitant. Coakley said at the clinic she spoke to many patients and gathered valuable insights about what barriers are holding Albertans back.

One of her patients was a truck driver, who had sporadic hours and wasn't able to predict his schedule enough to secure a dose. She saw several patients with oxygen tanks or in wheelchairs who would have been eligible back in March.

"We did ask people, straight up. I was like, 'oh, why are you coming now? Why are you coming today?' Because they qualified a long time ago."

The clinic provided feedback forms, with one patient writing in that it was "easy and convenient" and "I will only get my second shot if you do it this way again."

The people who remain are more tricky to serve by appointment availability alone. 

What's needed, Coakley said, is outreach, meeting people where they are at and either answering questions that will help them decide to book, or giving walk-in options that intercept people's daily routines. 

Whether that's at the mall, at CTrain stations or grocery stores with more walk-in availability to suit a broad need.

The clinic was partnership between the Government of Alberta, Alberta Health Services, Calgary East Newcomers Collaborative, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, several family physicians, the Calgary Primary Care Network, the Mosaic Primary Care Network, the University of Calgary and the City of Calgary.


Helen Pike


Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist focusing on urban issues and municipal affairs. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.