The provincial government has created a new vaccine appointment booking system that they say will reduce confusion and speed up the immunization process.
Online and phone bookings will open up to Saskatchewan residents at least 85 years of age or older on Thursday morning at 8 a.m. Residents can book appointments for roughly 100 different vaccination sites by calling 1-833-727-5829, or by going online to Saskatchewan.ca/covid19-vaccine.
“While there will no doubt be some wrinkles as the process rolls out, in the big picture, it is going to speed up our immunization campaign and help us return to normal quicker,” SHA CEO Scott Livingston said during a media update on Wednesday. “It is a major step forward in the program.”
Health Minister Paul Merriman said the number of available slots will depend on how many vaccine doses are available. In the early stages, however, he said there’s no doubt demand will exceed supply.
“Please be patient. We’re going to go as fast as the vaccine supply allows us to,” Merriman said on Wednesday.
“If you do try to book an appointment outside of your age group, you will not be allowed to,” he added. “You will tie up the system, and slow down the bookings for seniors who are eligible.”
Health officials urged residents to use the online option if possible. The phone service is for those who need help booking their appointments.
The government says all vaccine appointment time slots will be listed online. Residents will not receive access to extra appointment options by calling.
The province plans to open the immunization process to people under the age of 85 in the coming days, however Merriman said that will depend on how many people are in each age category, and how many shipments they receive.
Residents cannot lose their eligibility, meaning they can still book an appointment weeks or months after becoming eligible.
If there are no disruptions, Livingstone said all Saskatchewan residents should be able to get their first shot before the end of June, with the province achieving full immunization by fall.
“The key thing we want the public to know is that their turn is coming soon,” he explained.
“With a little patience, this will ensure our entire population is protected faster, and that gives us more hope in returning to what our new normal will be.”
Derek Miller, SHA’s emergency operations centre team leader, said their phone service should be able to handle around 6,000 bookings per day. However, he also urged residents to use online services as much as possible.
Miller said the booking system can improve scheduling, reduce delays, and prevent long line-ups, which reduces the chance of COVID-19 transmission.
“It’s a critical enabler for our campaign as we move from phase one into phase two over the coming weeks, and start opening up immunization to the general public,” Miller told reporters on Wednesday.
The government will issue a public service announcement each time a new age group becomes eligible for the vaccine. The information will also be included in daily COVID updates.
Miller said they plan on increasing appointment options as the vaccine supply grows. That will mean drive-thru and walk-up mobile clinics. It could also involve pharmacies.
He added that the booking system should be able to handle a large demand for appointments, as long as only those who are eligible try to book them.
In a press release sent out on Wednesday, the SHA said the online site meets all of its security standards, policies and controls. Any data residents provide will be stored in Canadian data centres, and is subject to Canadian data security laws.