Wood Buffalo mayor calls for province to lower vaccine eligibility age in Fort McMurray region

The mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo says eligiblity restrictions, not vaccine hesitancy, is driving low COVID immunization rates in the area.

Mayor Don Scott says younger population is behind lower vaccination rates

Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott wants the Alberta government to expand vaccine eligibility in the Fort McMurray region. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo says age eligibility restrictions, not vaccine hesitancy, is driving low vaccine immunization rates in the area that is facing the highest per-capita COVID-19 case numbers in Alberta. 

"We have a very young population," Mayor Don Scott said Monday on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active. 

"It's young oilsands workers, predominantly. And unfortunately, most people do not qualify for the vaccine. So I think if the vaccine eligibility were opened up to a wider group and a different age group, a lower age group, they'd see a lot more take-up."

On Sunday, Scott and the council of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) declared a state of local emergency over the number of COVID cases.

Fort McMurray, the largest centre in the regional municipality, currently has 1,064 active cases, which works out to a active case rate of 1,339.8 per 100,000, the highest in the province. 

Scott is calling on the province to lower the vaccine eligibility age for the area's residents, and to share information with his municipality about how the virus is spreading. 

Watch | Mayor wants vaccines made available to younger residents

Wood Buffalo, Alta. mayor wants vaccines made available to younger residents

3 years ago
Duration 1:28
Featured VideoDon Scott, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in northeastern Alberta, tells Vassy Kapelos on Power & Politics that his region has a younger demographic and he wants to see the vaccine eligibility age lowered.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw will meet with Wood Buffalo officials on Tuesday. 

On Monday, Premier Jason Kenney said vaccine hesitancy among some First Nations people, and problems making vaccinations available to shift workers, were driving immunization numbers that were lower than the provincial average.  

About 17.2 per cent of the regional municipality and 13.9 per cent of Fort McMurray have received at least one dose, he said. The provincial average is 25.2 per cent. 

"I would point out that there's every day been a significant amount of unused supply that's already been made available to folks in that region," Kenney said. 

"I'm not being critical of anybody. I'm simply saying that the problem does not appear to be a supply problem. The problem appears to be when it comes to vaccines up there, it's matching up the people who are eligible with the doses that are already in the region."

While not rejecting Scott's idea outright, Kenney suggested lowering the vaccine eligibility age to accommodate the younger Fort McMurray population wouldn't fall in line with current recommendations.

Scott said the biggest problem is a lack of information from health officials about what is driving the spread in the region. He said that it's hard to know what help to ask for unless the causes can be identified. 

Tom McMillan, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, said there is no single sector or source behind the spread.