CALGARY -- More than 1.1 million eligible Albertans are unvaccinated against COVID-19 and appointments to receive the first dose have slowed. Just 4,200 people received their first shot on Tuesday.

The province reached its 70 per cent benchmark last week, meaning the province will move to Stage 3 of its reopening on July 1, but the first dose percentage has barely moved since then. It still sits just under 71 per cent.

"I think it's somewhat predictable," said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease physician with the University of Alberta.

"We knew there'd be a certain portion of people who either didn't want to get the vaccination because of concerns about safety or those kinds of things or they didn't feel that it's necessary."

While predictable, Dr. Smith said the slowed rate isn't ideal. Alberta's first current first dose rate of 70.9 per cent only represents people eligible to get the shot -- it doesn't include the population under 12 years old.

Just 60 per cent of Alberta's total population has at least one shot to protect them from the virus.

"Generally when we look at a virus where the transmissibility is where it's at right now in terms of the Delta variant, definitely over 70 per cent would be necessary to really stop the spread. And that's over 70 per cent of the whole population," Dr. Smith said.

About 427,000 Albertans need first doses to reach 70 per cent of the province's total population.

DIVIDE BETWEEN RURAL AND URBAN RATES

One of the major hurdles for public health officials is providing vaccine access for those who want the shot, especially in rural communities.

While Calgary and Edmonton both have vaccine rates over 73 per cent, many rural communities are much lower than that.

High Level, in the northwest part of the province, only has 19 per cent of its eligible population with at least one dose.

"It is a massive, massive geographical area with a fairly small population," said Tony Nickonchuk, a pharmacist in Peace River who closely monitors vaccine rates among rural populations.

"So these are sparsely populated areas, often with not a lot of access to vaccine sites."

Vaccine sites can be several hours away for some rural residents, Nickonchuk said, and some may not feel getting the shot is a priority.

The premier says his government is constantly working on ways to make vaccine access more convenient for those who want it. Jason Kenney says Alberta was once moving forward in its vaccine rate miles at a time, but we're now just inching along.

Still, he'd like to gradually see a higher percentage of the eligible population get their shot.

"I'm hoping 75 per cent," said Kenney.

"At the end of the day, we're not going to force people to get vaccinated. It's their choice."