Moe sees vaccines as way out of pandemic as variants rise

Premier Scott Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab at a February 2021 press conference (Screen Capture/Government of Saskatchewan Facebook page)

The province announced Tuesday that Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab is extending all provincial public health orders.

During a press conference, Premier Scott Moe emphasized vaccination as the way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and would not go so far as to enact similar measures to Regina as variants rise in the southern portion of the province.

“ We all need to be very diligent in following these public health orders as they are put forward so that we can continue to drive our case numbers down without increasing our restrictions further in our community or extending the already increased restrictions that we have in the community of Regina. This is very important for all of us to be very diligent,” Moe said.

The orders will remain in effect until April 12 and be reviewed at that time similar to other times when the measures have been extended since they were introduced in March.

“I believe that we will be able to get the case numbers under control in communities where they are increasing without further restrictions but we all need to do our part and we all need to follow the guidelines and the good practices that have been put forward and be very diligent at this point in time and following them to a tee each and every day so that we can hinder the spread of COVID-19,” he explained.

Moe continued to emphasize vaccinations as the ultimate key to getting through the pandemic. Moe explained in his opening remarks that there are 180,000 vaccines of various types coming into the province over the next two weeks. He added that was as many doses as have already been delivered in the province and these would allow drive thru sites to be opened in places like Saskatoon, Yorkton and Estevan.

“I think the thing that ultimately … is vaccinations. That is why we are targeting many of the vaccines that we are receiving over the course of this week and next week into the areas of Moose Jaw, of Regina, of Weyburn, of Yorkton places where the variants ultimately are present. I have always said that public health measures are nothing more than a stopgap to buy us time until such time that we get the majority of Saskatchewan residents vaccinated,” he said.

Starting March 31 at 8 a.m., the appointment booking system will be available to residents 60 years of age and older.

“That’s thousands of more Saskatchewan residents who can book their first shots,” Moe said.

“I want to thank everyone who has made an appointment already and who has already got their shot in many cases. I want to thank everybody else who is patiently waiting their turn. We are going to get to you just as quickly as we can and because for all of the most important thing we can do to protect, not only ourselves but those around us is to get vaccinated,” he added.

The latest shipments of Pfizer vaccine are expected in Saskatchewan in the coming days. Saskatoon and Regina should arrive on March 30 , while Prince Albert, North Battleford and Yorkton are expected on March 31.

“We are almost there. Keep it up for another few weeks until we can all almost certainly get vaccinated,” Moe said.

Shahab said that the SHA is watching the developments surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is no longer recommended for use in adults under 55, closely. The AstraZeneca vaccine was part of the successful drive thru campaign in Regina, he said, noting that he had been among those to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at the drive thru.

“I have no doubt that as we speak today AstraZeneca is protecting people in their 60s in the City of Regina who are at high risk of COVID because of the surge. I think we need to be reassured that all vaccines including AstraZeneca remain very safe. We have not had any reports of adverse effects as reported in Europe and Canada,” Shahab said.

He added that further investigations would be done into the rare events of side effects in people vaccinated over the last 20 days. The province will have small amounts available to people 55 and older while Pfizer and Moderna make up the bulk of the vaccines used in the province..

“But again I will repeat that all three vaccines remain safe and effective,” Shahab said.

Due to the increased COVID-19 transmission risk in Regina and area, revisions were made March 24 including: restricting private indoor gatherings to immediate household members only; all restaurants and licensed establishments must close for in-person dining; and most event venues supporting 30 persons or less are not permitted to operate.

As well, travel is also not recommended in or out of the Regina area unless absolutely necessary. It is strongly recommended that all individuals in the Regina area able to work from home do so.

Moe and Shahab each asked the people of Moose Jaw to be very diligent with the health measures that are in place.

“I think Moose Jaw is on red alert and this has to be watched very closely,” Shahab said.

Shahab explained that active cases in Weyburn are 26 and in Estevan is 37 and the entire region is being monitored for the rising variants.

“There are many places in the south that are quite concerning. We need to maintain our caution to allow the very strong, very rapidly accelerating vaccine program to be successful over the next six to eight weeks. And over the next six to eight weeks, the bulk of the population 50 and older and maybe even 40 and older, especially people with underlying risk factors, will have been vaccinated for at least one dose,” Shahab said.

Moe explained that the goal is to keep COVID-19 at a level that it isn’t overburdening the healthcare system.

“People also have a choice to go beyond those measures and we are asking them to at this point,” Moe said.

He said there are discussions around tightening public health measures in Moose Jaw, but that the province isn’t at that point yet.

“The way through this is vaccines, the way through this is not to increase public health measures. We have significant public health measures in place, we are asking people to be extra diligent over the course of the next number of weeks as we find our way through the dying weeks, what we hope are the dying weeks of this pandemic until we can provide them with access to a vaccine,” Moe said.

He continues to emphasize his trust in the people of the province.

“We have faith in the people of this province and the last item that we would choose is to enact restrictions that impact not only people’s lives but ultimately their livelihoods,” Moe added.

Moe added that he does not believe that restrictions are the goal for governments.