BANFF, ALTA. -- With COVID-19 infection rates taking off in Wood Buffalo and Banff, the province will send the first 30,000 doses of the Jansen Johnson & Johnson vaccine directly to the hard-hit areas.

Alberta leads the country in infections per 100,000 population with 469. But Wood Buffalo has an infection rate of 1,500 per 100,000 population, while Banff is at about 1,160.

Local leaders in both regions expressed their gratitude to the province for the action.

“We have no medical resources at our grasp that will help us out because some of our people are being turned away at the regional hospital as we speak,” says Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

The single-dose J&J vaccine arrived at Pearson International Wednesday morning and all of Alberta's 30,000 allotted doses will go to the two regions. Premier Jason Kenney says the focussed vaccination effort will continue for at least the next two weeks.

The province will also offer the vacccine to everyone age 30 and up living in Banff or Wood Buffalo, a significant expansion of eligibility. This will also apply to any future doses of AstraZeneca that may arrive.

"We would look forward to changes that would allow for even 20 plus, but at this point today were just really happy to get our 30 pluses vaccinated," says Banff mayor Karen Sorensen.

She says the doses and expanded eligibility will help, and was "thrilled" by the announcement, but cautions the number of infections are likely to rise further before coming down.

Banff faces special challenges though and the infection rate may actually be higher than reported.

The largest demographic in the resort town is ages 20 to 29 and many live in group staff accommodations where the virus spreads easily and precautions are difficult to maintain.

Along with that, the towns census is out of date and further impacted by the total collapse of tourism over the past year. So while the infection rate is based on the mountain region's official population of about 13,500, the true number of people living there is likely lower.