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Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services

Alberta Health Services hosts community conversation about COVID vaccines

By Sophia Lopez, June 8 2021—

On May 27, the Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) Community Engagement and Communications (CE&C) team held a virtual COVID-19 Community Conversation to discuss the recent updates on the pandemic such as cases and second vaccine doses.

Sarah Hope, a member of the community engagement team, led the discussion and was accompanied by one of the AHS’s medical experts and medical officer of health Dr. Michael Zakhary, who answered questions the public brought forward. 

Zakhary began by presenting statistics related to Alberta’s spikes in COVID cases in the past few months, and the COVID variants and their contagiousness. He then went into detail regarding the COVID vaccine and how “more than 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Alberta.”

“[The vaccines] do not contain the virus,” said Zakhary. “But they trigger an immune response to certain parts of this virus so that when we’re exposed to that virus the body is having this neurologic memory to be able to defend the infection and prevent the infection and reduce the impact of these infections.”

After discussing the vaccine, Zakhary explains how there are still levels of uncertainty when it comes to whether or not people can still spread COVID after being vaccinated. He encourages people to continue to follow health measures set in place, such as wearing a mask and isolating if experiencing symptoms, to ensure we reduce the spread of COVID. 

“We don’t yet know if the vaccine prevents people from spreading the virus,” Zakhary said. “That’s why we continue to follow the public health measures to keep the unvaccinated people around us safe until we reach this level of immunity that would help reduce the spread of the virus.”

A common question regarding vaccines is which one is the best.

“The vaccine available would be the best,” said Zakhary, but he encourages speaking with your primary care physician or health care practitioner if you have any doubts or questions about the vaccines.

“We encourage that you get vaccinated, please, as soon as you are eligible and as soon as you can,” said Zakhary. “Follow all the mandatory public health measures, even after vaccination. Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance, and be kind to one another.”

Hope then addressed some of the questions sent in by the people attending, and a common question asked was regarding the vaccine approval process. Zakhary explained how very complex steps have been taken to ensure that the vaccines available work, even in a short amount of time. 

“I’d like to highlight the fact that yes, it happened in a fairly robust way, in a way that all these phases have been taken care of,” he said. “So, yes it happened over a shorter period of time compared to other vaccines, but no steps have been skipped. All the steps have been undertaken as determined by evidence.”

Zakhary later clarified any doubts about the vaccine itself and whether or not it is safe for people to get. He mentioned how there is an efficient monitoring system in place to keep up with how people are reacting to the vaccine and handle any issues that arise, but as of now, there is no evidence to conclude that the vaccine is not safe. 

“We are not aware of any adverse, long-term events of the vaccine. But the evidence that we do have is that vaccines are safe and effective in reducing transmission in prevention of severe illness, hospitalization and that from COVID.”

Although Alberta has suffered a large amount of confirmed COVID cases, the recent third wave has seen less people with COVID, and the number is lowering slowly by the day. 

Zakhary reminds Albertans that although living with COVID-19 has been a long and tiresome journey, vaccines are providing hope for us to soon return to a bit of normalcy. 

“Please remember that these are difficult times for everyone, so nobody is to blame,” he said. “It’s more important than ever to be kind and supportive to one another.”

If you have questions regarding vaccines, where and when to get vaccinated, and other general COVID questions, visit the AHS website. For specific questions, email the AHS Community Engagement email at community.engagement@ahs.ca.

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