Jasper is known for its snow-capped mountains, wildlife and abundance of family activities.
But there’s also something catching the attention of public health officials: The city has the highest rate in Alberta of children ages 5 to 11 with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
As of May 2, 80.8% of this age group had rolled up their sleeves for a dose, according to data from Alberta Health. This rate is nearly double the provincial average of 46.37%, which is the lowest in the country, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Although Alberta’s urban centers dominate the list of areas with the highest immunization rates in the province for children five to 11 years old, Jasper sits at the top of the pack, and health officials and Community members say a number of factors contribute to this.
Lynn and Andrew Wannop run Coco’s Cafe in Jasper. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, it not only hurt business, but Andrew, who has asthma, also didn’t leave the house much.
“I stayed home with the kids and we sort of isolated ourselves at first,” he said.
When vaccines were approved for adults, the couple received their doses. And as soon as vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 were given the green light, they immediately enrolled their two children.
“They wanted it,” Lynn Wannop said.
“They’ve been through it as much as we have. As a kid, you listen to your parents and they hear us say getting vaccinated is important. They never questioned it.”
Alice, 10, said she was a little nervous about getting the shot, but it was something she wanted to do.
“I [understood] more because my mum said it would make me less sick,” she said, adding that life has been “normal” since she was vaccinated in November 2021.
Figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that 56.82% of children aged five to 11 nationwide have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of April 24. This number is significantly lower than the 84.83% of eligible Canadians. for the vaccine who have at least one dose.
Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland said there were several reasons why there has been strong uptake of vaccination across the city, an attitude which he says has trickled down to vaccination of children from 5 to 11 years old. One hundred per cent of young people aged 12 to 19 have received at least one dose, according to figures from Alberta Health, as of May 2. All other age groups have an absorption greater than 90 percent.
The city, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, has long attracted visitors from across Canada and around the world.
Travel restrictions meant to keep COVID-19 at bay hit Jasper’s economy hard and vaccinations were a way to protect businesses, Ireland said.
“Our economy is completely visitation-based. There’s this front-line interface with so many people you don’t know. We continue to encourage people to come to our community, but they’re not people you know. You don’t know know where they went, who they were in contact with,” he said.
“We need to maintain a reputation as a safe destination to visit. Part of that safety is public health, and so the more we can generate that sense of safety – both internally and externally – the better we all do.
Ireland also said the city is united due to its small population – 4,201 people – and is also densely populated, which encourages people to have a greater sense of protection for each other.
“People bump into each other everywhere.”
In addition to this, Ireland believes that the outward and active mentality of residents predisposes them to take up vaccinations.
“Whether it’s skiing or hiking…safety and mitigation measures come naturally to people here,” Ireland said.
“There is a risk there. It happens to be a virus. How can I mitigate this? How can I keep my children safe?”
The health authority monitors
Jasper’s family doctor, Dr Declan Unsworth, said healthcare workers were trying to ensure vaccines were readily available for the five-to-11-year-old age group and waiting lists for vaccine appointments were shared between providers.
“All of us doctors, we’re all strong supporters of vaccines. We’ve tried to make it a point to talk to all of our patients, all of our parents about the importance of vaccination.”
Unsworth hopes the success of vaccinating these five to 11-year-olds will trickle down to under-fives once a vaccine is approved for them, adding that he answered questions from parents about when that time will come. .
Dr. Kathryn Koliaska, Alberta Health Services Medical Officer of Health for that part of the province, said Jasper is “special” because of the interconnectedness of the community, from public health nurses to employers in through companies.
“What we learned from Jasper is…how powerful it is. Although we always intended to be adaptable, Jasper really showed how effective it can be when health and our communities work together.”
The health authority is seeing what can be taken from the high rates in Jasper to help raise rates in other parts of the province.
“In Jasper, for example, travel, work, health intersect and come together as a reason to get vaccinated. This specific reason might not be applicable across the province, but listening to the reasons and how we work together is absolutely,” Koliaska said.