Province defends age-based vaccine rollout as premier muses about accelerating access for some front-line workers

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

Saskatchewan may or may not be considering expanding vaccination eligibility to more workplaces, depending on who you ask.

Premier Scott Moe told the 2021 Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium Wednesday that the prince is taking another look at its vaccine delivery plan. He said he is considering prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for some front-line workers, sharply contrasting remarks made by his government just the day prior defending the age-based rollout.

He specifically pointed to large worksites with several hundred front-line workers as what could be first up on that priority list, and said the province may be able to use mobile clinics to vaccinate these workers.

The same day, though, Health Minister Paul Merriman said the province hasn’t made any decisions to move away from its oft-criticized age-based rollout. Groups not included in the first phase, including some health care workers, police officers, teachers and minimum-wage earners at essential businesses, have argued that the requirement that they work in-person and see large groups of people each day should also mean they receive vaccine prioritization.

The province, though, has said that will only lead to slow-downs.

“What the premier is alluding to is we are continuously evolving what we are looking at,” Merriman said Wednesday.

“The age based sequence is still the best way of getting the most vaccines out. That’s why we’re able to lead the country. The age based sequence on our base vaccination program is working for us and that’s why we’re leading the country right now.”

Saskatchewan does have more vaccines in arms per capita than any other provinces. It also, though, leads the nation in COVID-19 cases per capita.

Despite rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations, Merriman defended his government’s decision not to expand public health measures, even as Ontario imposed a state of emergency and stay-at-home order Wednesday.

Existing restrictions are working outside of Regina, Merriman said.

“What we’re seeing is these are good restrictions. These did bend the curve down before and we’re confident they will do that again,” Merriman said.

“We want to make sure  that we’re always balancing safety with people’s freedoms but also protecting their livelihood and their mental health.t hat’s a huge piece of that, the mental health side of things for people to be able to interact.I don’t think more restrictions are the answer.”

Following existing restrictions and getting vaccinated is the answer, Merriman said.

Also Wednesday, the province extended existing public health orders to April 26.

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab urged residents to follow health orders and recommendations as closely as they can for the next six to eight weeks until every age group is eligible for a first dose of their vaccine by early June.

While restrictions prohibiting indoor gatherings and closing bars and restaurants to in-person dining don’t exist outside of Regina, Shahab encouraged residents to act as if they do.

Residents should rely more on takeout and delivery, “even where in-restaurant dining is allowed,” Shahab said.

“Even when we can make household bubbles, doing it outdoors,” Shahab said.

He said anyone working outside of the home needs to be wearing masks all the time and using the best PPE possible. He said that outdoor gatherings, just like indoor ones, need to be physically-distanced.

“This is going to be critical,” he said.

Shahab said the nation is seeing a third wave of COVID-19, driven primarily by variants of concern. He added that in Saskatchewan hospitalization and case rates in older age groups is going down, which is evidence the vaccine plan is working.

He added, though, that there are growing numbers of cases and hospitalizations among the 10-19 age group and people in their 40s. Those are the people most likely to be in school or working outside of the home, he said.

“We have to do whatever we can individually to minimize transition from rising in other parts of Saskatchewan. That is going to be critical for the next four to six weeks while our vaccinations pick up,” he said.

“We have to hold the line for the next 8 to 12 weeks until we are better protected due to vaccines.”

30-year-old from North Central zone among new COVID-19 deaths

Two more Saskatchewan residents diagnosed with COVID-19 have died, including a resident who was in their 30s, the province said Wednesday.

The resident in the 30-39 age group lived in the north central zone of the province, which includes Prince Albert. The other death was a Regina zone resident over the age of 80.

The province reported 189 new cases and 246 recoveries Wednesday. Three of the new cases were in the north central. There are now  2,138 cases of COVID-19 considered active.

An additional 6,738 doses of vaccine were distributed Tuesday, including 651 in the north central.

Over 20,000 , or 14 per cent, of residewnts in their 50s now have a first dose in their arms.

There are 201 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, including 42 in intensive care. The North Central zone has three inpatients with COVID-19 and four intensive care patients. 

The seven-day average of daily new cases is 226, or 18.4 new cases per 100,000.

No new lineage results were announced for variants of concern. So far, there have been 2,380 variant cases detected in Saskatchewan. Of those, 19 were in North Central.

— with Leader-Post files from Lynn Giesbrecht