Health minister confident Saskatchewan will hit 70 per cent first dose goal ‘very quickly’

A nurse draws a dose from a vaccine vial in Prince Albert. Photo courtesy SHA.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said he’s confident 70 per cent of Saskatchewan residents ages 12 and older will get their first vaccine dose by July 11, paving the way for a safe return to normal this summer.

Health officials reported 24,971 new vaccine doses administered in Thursday’s COVID-19 update, roughly 2,500 of which were first doses. Merriman said that’s a good sign moving forward, and if it continues, Saskatchewan will easily surpass the 70 per cent mark by July 11.

“We will hit that 70 per cent very quickly, probably within the next three to four days,” Merriman told reporters during a Thursday afternoon press conference. “By the time we get to July 11 we’re going to be well past that 70 per cent (goal) for 12 and older, and certainly we’re going to be well-past that 70 per cent (goal) of 18 and older.

“You’ve got to remember, we want to keep some momentum going for what is happening with our second dose. We have a record day today of almost 25,000 vaccines that we were able to administer. We have more vaccines in the province than ever before, and we’re continuing to be able to get those vaccines out as fast as possible.”

Roughly 69 per cent of residents ages 12 and older have received their first dose. Saskatchewan has been stuck at that number since June 20.

Since then, Merriman said they’ve tried to get more vaccinations clinics running in schools and areas with low uptake. He also said they have plans to talk with community leaders in those low uptake areas, and directly target young adults who haven’t been vaccinated.

Roughly 53 per cent of residents ages 18 to 29  have received their first dose, along with 59 per cent in their 30s and 59 per cent in their 40s.

Merriman called the province’s vaccination strategy key to a long-term reopening plan, and encouraged anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to book an appointment.

“If you’re not vaccinated, you are still at risk, so please, for yourself, for the people who care about you, and for Saskatchewan, get your vaccine,” he said.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said he thinks only 10 per cent of Saskatchewan residents are strongly against getting vaccinated. Shahab said busy work schedules and good summer weather probably play a bigger role in reducing uptake.

He’s confident Saskatchewan can hit 80 per cent uptake by the fall, provided the government makes vaccinations as convenient as possible.

“People who don’t have any hesitancy but never got around to it—if they’re passing by a site that’s offering the vaccine—will get their first dose (or) will get their second dose,” Shahab said. “Again and again we see people—even people who are not thinking of getting vaccinated—when it’s convenient and offered, when it’s in front of them, they will accept.”

Shahab added that cases are steadily declining across the province, but there are still some risks. The Alpha variant of COVID-19 remains the dominant variant in the province, except for a few small areas, but it’s the Delta variant that’s the main concern.

Shahab said it’s surged in many countries, sometimes delaying them from reopening. However, he’s optimistic high vaccination uptake can keep the variant from spreading.

“We have to be cautious as we reopen. The best protection we have against the Delta variant is two doses in arms, but in addition, all the other public health measures will be critical as well.”

“It is really important that we stay the course, try to get our first doses, then within 28 days, our second doses,” he added. “That will let us enjoy the summer. The higher our uptake is, the better a fall we’ll have in terms of COVID.”

After dealing with delays earlier in the week, vaccine deliveries are back on schedule. Pfizer deliveries scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday instead arrived one day late.

Derek Miller, the SHA’s executive director of Infrastructure Management for the SHA, said about 4,000 residents who booked second dose appointments for Pfizer had to be switched to Moderna due to the delay.

Miller added that they expect to receive regular, uninterrupted vaccine shipments until the end of June. There will be a slight reduction in Pfizer deliveries for the first couple weeks in July, however the government expects to receive an additional 120,960 doses of Moderna next week. The SHA said that will be the largest shipment Saskatchewan has received to date.

On Thursday, the SHA also announced that residents of all ages are eligible for a second dose 28 days after they receive their first one.