Why some Alberta seniors still haven't been vaccinated

Misinformation, isolation and fear are among the reasons why roughly 17 per cent of Albertans over 70 haven’t had a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to an Edmonton nurse practitioner who works with older populations. 

Vast majority of Albertans over 70 have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Most Albertans over the age of 70 have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but about 17 per cent have yet to get a jab. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Misinformation, isolation and fear are among the reasons why about 17 per cent of Albertans over 70 haven't had a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to an Edmonton nurse practitioner who works with older populations. 

More than 80 per cent of all Albertans in their 70s have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and over 85 per cent of people 80 and older have had their first jab, according to provincial statistics.

The risk the virus posed to the older population prompted Alberta to make COVID-19 immunization available to people over 75 early on during the vaccine rollout. The average age of Albertans who have died of COVID-19 is 81. 

Health authorities were especially keen to get shots into the arms of long term care and designated supportive living residents, sending health-care workers to those facilities to deliver shots to residents on site — and now 85 per cent of those residents are fully vaccinated, and 91 per cent have their first dose.

But about 70,000 people over 70 still haven't received their first dose, and there are several reasons for that, Edmonton nurse practitioner Anne Summach says.

Nurse practitioner Anne Summach and her colleagues who work with Edmonton seniors say they've heard a range of motivations for why some have opted out of getting immunized against COVID-19. (Paige Parsons/CBC)

Summach is an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, and also works with Sage Seniors Centre on a project supporting older adults experiencing frailty. She previously ran a health clinic for seniors at the downtown centre.

Summach said one of the major issues for the minority of older people who have opted not to get a shot is the spread of misinformation that can be reinforced by social media, family, friends or others in the community. 

"They're hearing misinformation about the development of vaccines, about the risk of vaccines, about the benefits of natural remedies that they might be able to take instead of vaccines about COVID itself," she said.

There are also seniors who were unable to navigate the appointment system, language barriers for non-English speakers, or getting transportation — these challenges can be even tougher for isolated people who don't have family who can assist them, she said.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health Services said the healthy authority has been working with several agencies to assist anyone who needs help with booking appointments and transportation. AHS is also providing vaccine to homebound Albertans, and offering information in several languages.

Summach said she and her colleagues have also heard from older Albertans who are fearful of getting ill by going out to a busy clinic, and others are worried about feeling unwell again if they had their first shot and experience side effects, or if they've heard from a friend who felt ill. 

There are also some people who aren't interested because they don't trust governments.

"I don't think it's anything specific the government has done, but there is a subset of seniors who don't trust the government in general," she said.

Finally, she said they have encountered some people who feel they've lived a long and full life, and who say they don't want to take a vaccine that could go to someone younger.

She said she believes that more targeted work with social agencies to reach out to particularly isolated seniors could help get the immunization number up, but she said, as with the wider population, there is always going to be a segment that will decline the vaccine. 

"There's no convincing somebody who's decided already that their source of truth is the source of truth," she said. "But we do our best when we interact with seniors to give them up-to-date information."


Paige Parsons is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has specialized in justice issues and city hall, but now covers anything from politics to rural culture. She previously worked for the Edmonton Journal. She can be reached at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.