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An Alberta New Year’s Wish for a Working Public Health System

As life expectancy falls, Danielle Smith’s ideology could bring even more deaths.

Lisa Young 29 Dec 2023The Tyee

Lisa Young is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. Her newsletter on Alberta politics is What Now?!?

Last week, I was on the radio chatting about the year that was and the year that’s coming, and the host asked me what was on my Christmas wish list for Alberta politics.

Predictably, I came up with my real answer the next day. I want a functioning public health system.

Alanna Smith’s bombshell report in the Globe and Mail reveals that the Alberta government directed Alberta Health Services “to remove the words 'influenza' and 'COVID' from advertisements for the province’s fall immunization campaign.”

When approving the advertising campaign, the government’s revisions “included the removal of details about vaccine eligibility, immunization locations by age group and the types of vaccines being offered and their efficacy against different strains of COVID-19 and influenza. Two lines that encouraged Albertans to book vaccination appointments were also deleted.”

The article is a bombshell because it finds evidence for what anyone paying attention would expect: that the Smith government doesn’t want to be seen to be promoting vaccination for COVID-19. Smith won the United Conservative Party leadership with the support of people opposed to vaccine mandates and skeptical of the efficacy of vaccines. If they saw AHS promoting the efficacy of vaccines, they’d pressure her to fire the head of AHS.

Oh, wait...

Here’s what passes for the good news: despite the lack of meaningful advertising, Alberta’s vaccination rate this fall is not the worst in the country. At 14 per cent, we’re hovering around the national average, behind B.C. (23 per cent) but ahead of Ontario (12 per cent).

Alberta has the dubious distinction of being second only to Saskatchewan in the decline in life expectancy over the past three years.

As Global Calgary journalist Adam Toy posted on X, between 2019 and 2022, life expectancy at birth declined by just over two years in Saskatchewan and by 1.75 years in Alberta. The overall figure for Canada was a 0.95-year decline. Coincidentally, as of 2022 Alberta and Saskatchewan were the provinces that had the lowest COVID vaccination rates.

A line chart shows life expectancy by province from 1980 to 2020.
Graph by Adam Toy of Global News. Data via Statistics Canada.

I can’t get this graph out of my head. Certainly, a decline in life expectancy was to be expected in the midst of a global pandemic. But rather than being alarmed by the size of our decline, we seem determined to lean into it. A sizable number of Albertans are apparently nostalgic for the good old days of whooping cough and measles. And think of how good it will be for the bottom line of the new Alberta pension plan if retirees don’t live so long!

All joking aside, the health-care system appears to be teetering on the brink of collapse, with long wait times in emergency rooms and stories of patients parked in hallways and lounges.

A robust COVID and influenza vaccination campaign wouldn’t solve these problems, but it would both lessen the pressure on the health-care system and send a welcome message to the people working in it that the government is doing what it can to lighten their burden.

So my New Year's wish, readers, is for you to go out and get vaccinated, if you haven’t already. Book an appointment for a family member. If you’re going to a holiday dinner where the subject might come up, arm yourself with information.

It’s up to you!


Happy holidays, readers. Our comment threads will be closed until Jan. 2 to give our moderators a much-deserved break. See you in 2024!  [Tyee]

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