By Cole Parkinson and Kenyon Stronski
The Municipal District of Taber is one of the lowest vaccinated places in Alberta by percentage.
According to alberta.ca, only 58 per cent of individuals aged 12 and up have one dose of vaccine and 51.6 per cent of individuals 12 and up have both doses. This makes the municipality the second-lowest vaccinated area in the South Zone, with the County of 40-Mile being the lowest.
Taber Mayor Andrew Prokop explained it is a difficult situation, as many people have made the decision not to be vaccinated, which he says is their choice.
“Now, Lethbridge is at around 70 per cent and I think we’re at (58),” said Prokop.
As of Nov. 1, Lethbridge North had 80.6 per cent of aged 12 and up fully vaccinated and 87.8 per cent with one dose — Lethbridge South was at 81.3 per cent fully vaccinated 12 and up and 86.9 per cent with one dose.
“So, still low in comparison and that’s a difficult thing. If people made their mind up not to be vaccinated, that’s their choice and some are choosing that, but obviously, we’re lower than others in the south here. The best I recommend though is to follow the medical recommendations as per Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw. She’s really the catalyst with all this involved to make those good decisions on what’s best for all of our health and welfare concerns. I don’t know how you go against that personally, and we’re relying on her expertise for obvious reasons. Along with her team who are highly trained and highly qualified and that’s really as good as it gets. I don’t know why we’re so low and I don’t have those answers.”
Merrill Harris, reeve of the M.D. of Taber, also stated the previous council did their best to provide real information for their residents — and the new council will continue to do that.
“Since I am not a licensed medical professional, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to either encourage or discourage vaccination, and getting vaccinated is a personal choice that should be made in consultation with a doctor. As a local government, we have implemented a Temporary Mandatory Face-Covering Bylaw No. 1969 which only came into effect when the total number of regional active cases, as determined by the Alberta government, is reported by Alberta Health Services to be 50 cases or more per 100,000 in population,” he said. “We have also done our best to communicate with the public and encourage citizens to do their best to help slow the spread. Working with Mayor Prokop and Mayor (Margaret) Plumtree of Vauxhall, we have produced a series of videos to help educate and encourage a safe way forward. This process also involves translating the information to those who have English as a second language. Additionally, we have worked with Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) on sharing the message of what each person can do to help slow the spread.”
With several new councillors at the table after the recent election, Harris says council will continue to work with AHS to keep up to date on regulations and rules.
“As a member of council, our role is to help ensure transparency, so people have as much information as possible to make their own informed decisions. Now that harvest is over and life on the farms is slowing down, we hope people will find the time to get vaccinated,” he added. “In the meantime, we will continue to work with Alberta Health Services to follow, support and educate our residents as soon as the new public health measures become available, and will continue to do so as we navigate through this together with the rest of the province.”
The M.D. did have 19 to Zero — “a dedicated coalition of academics, public health experts, behavioural economists, and creative professionals working to understand, engage with, and ultimately shift public perceptions around COVID-19 behaviours and vaccination”, visit council earlier this year.
That visit did lead to a discussion on how to decrease vaccine hesitancy in the area and a suggestion for the group to visit Cornfest.
Being low in vaccination rates, Taber businesses also face the difficult decision on whether or not to adopt vaccine passports. If they do, then they can only serve 50 per cent of clientele in the Taber area. However, if they don’t, then they are forced to deal with the restrictions imposed on them.
“I do not know how many businesses have a vaccine passport, but I know most government agencies are taking that as a requirement. We haven’t gone down that path yet and I’m not sure if we will, but I think we’re just looking to follow the Alberta Health Services recommendations, rules and restrictions as we have from the start. We have not wavered from that decision at all.”
Prokop also mentioned how the vaccine passport, and whether or not enforcing businesses to take it on as a requirement was mentioned at the mayoral forum.
“There’s no consistency with the vaccine passport — either people have it or don’t have it and have to refuse customers or have many restrictions placed on them. It was discussed at the forum and I don’t believe we have a right to tell businesses what to do. It’s a very deep ask to suggest that and I think that’s a whole other level that’s not fair and reasonable for us as a council to make that decision.”
The decision will be a difficult one for Taber small businesses as there is no clear answer, says Prokop.
“The province is doing it governmentally but only that, and I think it’s a business choice on whether or not to adopt the passport. Does anybody follow the government lead? I think that’s their choice.”