MLA and Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

MLA and Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

MLA Rick Wilson: Vaccination measures across Alberta

Opinion column from MLA Rick Wilson

Hello friends and neighbours!

Let’s talk about COVID. I know – it’s everyone’s favourite unpleasant topic! We are nearing the two-year mark since the world was blindsided by this virus and I’d like to take a moment to check in with you.

If you had asked me at the beginning of my term of office about the kinds of issues I anticipated dealing with as your MLA or as Minister of Indigenous Relations, I would have had a list, but a world-wide pandemic would not have been on it. As with any matter that comes up, though, the underlying principle is to make decisions based on what is best for Albertans. It has been the priority of this government to find a balanced approach to mitigating the risks to both lives and livelihoods of Albertans in the wake of this virus.

At the start of the pandemic, we hardly knew what we were dealing with. The virus was new and unpredictable, and experts were just gathering and assessing preliminary information. Decisions by all governments were made based on the best information available. As better information emerged over time, better measures were put in place. We are so fortunate in this province and in this country to have reliable experts whose professional judgements we can trust. The evolving nature of both the virus and the tools we have available to combat it have kept our experts on their toes with adjustments to their recommendations for measures to keep us all safe and healthy. The changes are a lot to keep up with and we are grateful to all Albertans who have voluntarily done their part to reduce risks to their own health and the health of others.

Vaccines have played a huge role in allowing us to manage life during the pandemic. They are safe and have been fully approved for use by Albertans aged five and older. Third doses are available for everyone 18 and older who had their second dose at least five months ago. Immunocompromised Albertans can now book fourth doses to bolster immunity.

Even if you are fully vaccinated, please follow all the applicable public health measures. The most recent variant, Omicron, is highly transmissible and a small (but significant) number of double vaccinated Albertans are still getting infected. The good news is that the vaccine is doing its job and keeping folks out of the ICU. You can keep on top of all news and information related to vaccines by visiting www.alberta.ca.

Vaccines are strongly recommended, but are not mandated by the provincial government. In fact, you may remember that an old law that had been previously on the books allowing for mandatory vaccinations by the province, was recently changed. Alberta law now prevents mandatory vaccines by government.

In case you were wondering, a health tax for those who are unvaccinated is not something Alberta is considering. All Albertans will continue to receive universal access to medically necessary hospital and health care services.

I have to tip my hat to my friend and Minister of Education, Adrianna LaGrange, for making the decision to allow children from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to return to in-person classes for the second half of this school year. Kids just need to be in school. Teachers need to teach. And with the safety measures in place in classrooms, this is the best option for kids’ development — academically, socially, and emotionally. There are no perfect, completely risk-free solutions for any of the vast number of challenges brought on by COVID, but this approach provides a great balance for Alberta’s school kids. I am so grateful for families who provided feedback and participated in surveys; for our medical experts who considered all aspects of a child’s health and development; and for school divisions who were patient while decisions were being hammered out, and flexible when it was time to carry through on them. A few bumps along the way are to be expected, but so far, things seem to be going well; the decision to return to in-person classes has been met with widespread approval and relief.

Some post-secondary institutions across the province have decided to extend their online classes. Alberta’s publicly funded post-secondary institutions operate under the authority of their boards of governors, who are responsible for the day-to-day management of their institutions. That includes the development and implementation of responses to the ongoing pandemic. The Alberta government does not intervene in institutional matters but recognizes that post-secondary institutions are in the best position to make decisions that impact the health and safety of their students and campus communities.

We are not finished with COVID. When we understand more about what we can expect from this variant and when we learn about changes to the overall pandemic situation, we must be prepared to make whatever adjustments become necessary. We’ve all been working hard at keeping COVID risks to a minimum, and I don’t mind admitting that we’ve all experienced our share of COVID-related frustration over the last many months. Don’t be discouraged! Continue following the public health measures. And know that every time you put on a mask, wash your hands, and stand six feet away, you are doing your part to minimize the risk to yourself and the wonderful people of Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin.

Rick Wilson is the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin. His constituency office can be reached by emailing maskwacis.wetaskiwin@assembly.ab.ca or by calling 780-360-8003.