Low first week turnout at Edmonton mass vaccination clinic

An Alberta Health Services spokesperson said the Edmonton Expo clinic did not run at full capacity this week because of an expected slow uptake.

Hesitancy around AstraZeneca one factor in low appointments

A birds-eye-view of a rapid flow COVID-19 vaccine clinic set up at the Edmonton Expo Centre. The clinic opened on April 12, 2021. (Lana Palmer Photography)

The mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Edmonton Expo Centre can administer 7,000 shots per day, if operating at full capacity.

On Wednesday, it did 280.

The rapid-flow clinic is solely offering the AstraZeneca vaccine and only to Albertans aged 55 to 64. An Alberta Health Services spokesperson said the Expo clinic did not run at full capacity this week because a slow uptake was expected for the shots.

On its opening day on Monday, the clinic administered 1,632 doses. That dropped sharply the next day to 520. As of Thursday mid-morning, AHS said around 400 people were booked for the day.

Another mass clinic at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre is also facing low appointment numbers after it opened last week.

"The first day we were doing about 5,000. Right now, we have bookings for between 500 and 1,000 people," Dr. Cheri Nijssen-Jordan, AHS's vaccine task force co-lead, said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

Calgary's Telus Convention Centre is now offering two free transit tickets for anyone who takes the bus or CTrain to their COVID-19 vaccine appointment. (Submitted by Calgary Telus Convention Centre)

Nijssen-Jordan said part of the issue is hesitancy brought on by reports of extremely rare blood clots occurring in people who have received AstraZeneca, also known as Covishield.

On Wednesday, Health Canada announced it had completed a safety review and found that AstraZeneca is safe, and that Canadians over 18 shouldn't hesitate to take it if offered. 

Eligibility is still limited to those over 55 for the time being as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is still reviewing research and hasn't updated its recommendation. An Alberta Health spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that the province is following NACI's recommendation and will continue to only offer AstraZeneca to Albertans aged 55 to 64.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday that the province's Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization would discuss expanding the age eligibility this week.

For now, it's up to public health officials like Nijssen-Jordan to try to encourage 55- to 64-year-olds that AstraZeneca is safe and effective.

"People are focusing on very rare events that may show up for other things, but it's also a lot more common for people in that age group to get COVID and have more serious side effects from the disease itself," she said. 

Dr. Michael Zakhary, a medical officer of health in Edmonton, said Thursday that AHS is working with Alberta Health, community practitioners and all levels of government to make sure the messages going out to the public are consistent, accurate and evidence-based.

"We do have provincial teams with AHS for community engagement, making sure that all questions around vaccines, around vaccine hesitancy are being appropriately addressed," he said.

Another factor holding up AstraZeneca jabs is that the 55- to 64-year-old demographic deemed eligible by the province isn't that large. As of Wednesday, only 24 per cent of 55- to 59-year-olds had received one dose of vaccine while 43 per cent of 60- to 64-year-olds had gotten their first shot.

Alberta Health Services said 28,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered so far, as has the entire shipment of 58,500 doses of Covishield that was shipped to Alberta a few weeks ago.