The provincial government's latest financial lure for more Albertans to get their COVID vaccinations — $100 to each person getting their first jab — is dangling more than $2.5 million over the Lakeland Region. But the current statistics show that not many are taking the bait.
Of the roughly 60,000 people across the the four main rural communities in the Lakeland, current statistics show that at least 25,000 have yet to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
It's been almost a full year since the vaccines became available in limited supply to target groups. By the end of this past June, there were enough vaccines available for every Albertan to be double-dosed. Despite the over-abundance of supply in the Lakeland, the uptake on the vaccines continues to sit well below two-thirds.
In the St. Paul region, the percentage of residents over the age of 12 with one dose is barely over 50 per cent. That means that more than 6,000 eligible people from Ashmont to Elk Point and all places in between have still not got a vaccine. And despite that reluctance, the provincial government is still willing to dangle a portion of that $2.5 million to them.
Perhaps it's time to cut bait.
That kind of funding split over the Lakeland would probably go a long way for other people who need it. Perhaps the Lac La Biche community could put it towards their homeless initiatives, or Bonnyville could perhaps see a boost for its long-serving Royal Canadian Legion and veteran supports. Money could also likely be used at the Bonnyville men's shelter. In St. Paul, the downtown business sector could do with a hand. Funds to economic development, the Chamber of Commerce or other like-minded local business-boosters would go a long way. Perhaps community leaders at the Elizabeth Métis Settlement could find a way to highlight adult learning or offer a few more community services to their membership with some extra dollars.
In the same rural boat
But instead, the money sits there ... waiting ... like the nurses and health care workers at the vaccination stations across northeastern Alberta communities and many other rural areas across Alberta.
North-Central and Northwest Alberta has similar poor percentages, with the High Prairie region reporting just 50 per cent of its roughly 8,000 residents over the age of 12 having one dose. Valleyview shows just 54 per cent of its 6,000 eligible residents with one jab. Likewise, only 55 percent of Drayton Valley's 16,000 eligible rural residents have rolled up a sleeve. Similar numbers are found across rural Alberta from Barrhead to Rocky Mountain House to Oyen.
And yet, like any good fishing story, the province continues to expand its provincial arm-span as it tells us about the growing size of vaccination rates. While it's true that the overall provincial numbers are showing more than 75 per cent of all Albertans have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine — those numbers are based on the larger populations of the main urban centres. The rates in Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary and Fort McMurray (yes, even Fort Mac where the city's statistics show 72 per cent of its eligible 65,000 population have at least one dose) skew the overall picture due to the much higher population bases.
But all it takes is one family group from Plamondon, or LaCorey or Cherry Grove (which, according according to the current stats, makes it a 50-50 chance they're not vaccinated) to take a trip to Edmonton, and the security offered with those increasing "urban" percentages is lost.
Until more rural Albertans are vaccinated, those impressive numbers — like the numbers after the dollar sign hooked onto the province's latest ineffective lure — will only serve to highlight the ones that got away.