Moe calls for less division as proof of vaccination is set to expire Feb. 14

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe (Herald file photo)

The provincial requirement to provide proof of vaccination or negative tests in Saskatchewan businesses, workplaces and other public venues will end next Monday, Feb. 14 at 12:01 a.m.

Premier Scott Moe made the announcement in a press conference on Tuesday morning. Moe spent much of his time talking about how the proof of vaccination had created divisions in the province.

It is time for each of us as individuals now to make a conscious effort to treat everyone that we encounter in our daily lives equally,” Moe said. “It is also time for the proof of vaccination mandate to end, so effective at midnight this Sunday, Feb. 13 all provincial proof of vaccination requirements will end in Saskatchewan businesses and venues and provincially regulated workplaces.

This means that the proof of vaccination or the negative test option that we have provided will no longer be a provincial requirement. Starting on Valentine’s Day, February 14 this will be the case,” he added.

eHealth Saskatchewan will continue to make proof of vaccination records and QR codes available to Saskatchewan residents for use where needed, including for travel or in other jurisdictions. However, Moe said Saskatchewan residents have the right to make different choice about vaccination, and the provincial government would respect that right.

Moe said the government introduced strict health orders to head off the spread of the Delta variant in Sept 2021, but times have changed.

When we first introduced this policy, I would be the first to admit that I was reluctant to do so,” Moe said. “I knew there would be much benefit from a policy such as this in the fight against COVID, and at that time the Delta wave, but I also knew that that benefit would come with significant costs.

I knew that this policy would create deep divisions in our families, in our friendships, in our province and in communities across Saskatchewan. People would potentially have different access or rights based on what their relative vaccination status would be that is the result of that policy. What was actually a pretty extraordinary step to take in this province effectively created two classes of citizens.”

Moe also claimed that, to his knowledge, the province had never done anything that created two classes of citizens its history, whether for vaccines or other items.

The premier stressed that the benefits of strict healthcare policies outweighed the costs during Delta. He said many more people went out and got vaccinated because of the orders, and case numbers dropped because of them.

Moe said there’s no sign those measures would provide the same benefits during the Omicron wave, which is still underway.

As of Tuesday, 85 per cent of those that are eligible in this province have received their first dose, 80 per cent of those that are eligible have received their second dose and nearly 50 per cent of those eligible have received their booster dose.

Moe wants to see the COVID-19 vaccine treated similar to the flu vaccine, which he says is not divisive. Moe also said not to question people who continue to wear masks even after that mandate expires because it is also a personal choice.

We shouldn’t be focusing in on what other people’s decisions are,” Moe said.

Moe also took a more measured approach to the effectiveness of vaccines than he had in recent weeks. He said vaccines would still be widely available in Saskatchewan, although he noted vaccine uptake has slowed “to some degree” in recent weeks.

Vaccination as we know is not preventing transmission of omicron like it did with previous variants,” he said

I will continue to encourage everyone and anyone that is eligible to go out and get vaccinated be it your first, your second and ultimately your booster dose, as vaccines most certainly do provide significant protection against serious illness from omicron or any other variant.”

Moe stated that as we move into the ‘living with COVID’ phase that people should continue to make wise choices such as getting a booster dose, staying home if you are not well and doing antigen rapid tests.

If you do test positive, we want you to stay at home for five days, but let’s all at the same time also get back to living our lives normally and doing the things that we all love to do. Let’s all make that extra effort to be just a little more understanding of others when we may disagree,” Moe said.

Moe said that the biggest challenge of the next phase is healing the divide caused by opinions for and against vaccinations or public health orders.

We must realize that it’s okay for use to disagree. We do hold strong opinions in this province and those are on full display often but we can disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “Don’t lose a friend to COVID. You might have to take some time apart, but keep that door open.

Time and time again Saskatchewan people have proven that we achieve great things when we come together and when we work together and when we accept those who may have different opinions than we do and when we respect others individual decisions,” he added.

Moe used much of his time to call for unity in the province and nation and asking residents to support each other. He urged listeners to avoid judging their neighbours, whether they did or didn’t get vaccinated, or whether they wear or don’t wear masks.

The indoor masking measure will not be renewed when it expires on Feb. 28.

I want to thank all of the businesses and the venues and the workplaces who have shifted course throughout this pandemic to keep their employees and to keep their customers safe and all of those who implemented and have administered the proof of vaccination or proof of negative test policy over the course of the past few months. Thank you for doing your part in our fight against COVID,” Moe said.

He also asked people not to judge other individuals on what decisions they arrive at when making their own risk assessment.

And that different conclusion albeit may be different from where you landed should not be judged, it should be respected and it should be accepted,” he said

The province also announced that all Saskatchewan residents 12 to 17 years of age are now eligible to receive a booster dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine effective immediately.

The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA booster will be offered at least five months following the completion of the primary series of vaccinations to all adolescents in this age cohort.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is more transmissible and has a shorter incubation period with many cases remaining asymptomatic.

It is just a reminder here that the online booking now is defaulting to five months so if anyone 18 and older wants a booster before five months they can call SASKVAX 1-822-727-5829 to get a booster if you are 18 or older after three months but 12 to 17 they can get a booster after five months. However, 12 to 17 year olds who are immunocompromised are eligible for a booster at three months and they will continue to be so,” Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said.

Evidence is showing greatly enhanced protection against severe illness and hospitalization with a third/booster dose of vaccine.

Previously, the additional dose was only available for adolescents who are immunocompromised or have other health conditions and could be administered three months after receiving their primary series of vaccinations. Information on eligibility for 12 to 17 year olds with medical conditions is available at the province’s website.

Moe concluded by calling for people to heel the divisions in the province

Let’s work to heel those divisions, let’s come together and let’s once again be ourselves in our community. This is a great province, this is a united province but most importantly this is a tolerant province and we are going to need all of that tolerance in the days ahead, it’s time for us to move,” he said.

NDP leader Ryan Meili blasted the decision to drop proof of vaccination requirements so quickly. Meili spoke to reporters at press conference Tuesday afternoon, where he said Saskatchewan residents want to get back to normal, but there are too many COVID-19 patients still in hospitals and ICUs to make it safe.

He also criticized the government for reducing the number of COVID dashboard updates, arguing it makes it hard for residents to make the right choices.

He’s out there telling you, as Saskatchewan people, to make your own choices, to make your risk assessment, but he’s giving you less information to do that with,” Meili said. “We don’t know what’s happening with cases.”