The federal government is disputing Saskatchewan’s claim that it was required to save half of the province’s initial shipment of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for a second dose.

"There is no requirement from the federal government to hold back the second dose in the vaccine series," Health Canada told CTV News in a statement on Friday.

That contradicts statements made by Health Minister Paul Merriman earlier this week.

During Wednesday’s provincial COVID-19 update, Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman responded to questions about the pace of the province’s vaccine rollout by placing the blame on the federal government.

"The manufacturer and the Public Health Agency of Canada required us to hold back the second shots, going forward, we will no longer be doing that," Merriman said on Wednesday.

He clarified on Friday that the province received verbal and written instructions on Dec. 9 to save half of its initial doses.

"We did not want to disobey the rules of what the federal government and Public Health Canada had outlined for us," Merriman told reporters.

The NDP said the province is deflecting the blame for the slow rollout of the vaccine.

"It’s another case of government point fingers elsewhere when they’re responsible for distributing the vaccine," NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat said.

The federal government said each province is responsible for determining how best to administer the vaccine.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has been updating its analysis as the vaccine rollout has progressed across the country and is advising provinces to immunize as many people as possible with each shipment.

"We had no firm numbers as to when the second dose was coming, so we had to hold back to make sure that we had the second dose in the appropriate amount of time," Merriman explained.

To achieve its full effectiveness, the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses at least 21 days apart.

Saskatchewan started administering the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Regina this week with 815 completed by Thursday.

Nearly 1,200 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were administered in Saskatchewan on Thursday, accounting for almost 20 per cent of the total shots given to date.

"The low percentage of doses that have been administered since we have received them in the province, that falls not he provincial government, that’s absolutely their responsibility," Mowat said.

The province said it will no longer be saving a second dose from the vaccine shipments.

Saskatchewan is scheduled to receive weekly shipments of about 6,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the rest of January and more than 11,000 doses per week in February.