Sask. to begin vaccinating first responders, remaining healthcare workers

Saskatchewan made some changes to its age-based COVID-19 vaccine strategy Monday, announcing it will begin immunizing some frontline essential workers – but not all.

The province reported it will begin vaccinating police officers, firefighters and public health inspectors with the help of mobile vaccination clinics. Remaining health care workers will also receive first doses and pharmacies will be able to vaccinate its own employees in the coming weeks.

The Ministry of Health said vaccination of first responders will start in the next two weeks, as mobile vaccine clinics finish giving first doses to residents and staff in congregate living settings.

Paramedics are not included in this phase as they were vaccinated in Phase 1, the Ministry of Health said.

“Similar to the vaccination of vaccine delivery teams, vaccinating first responders involved with enforcing COVID-19 orders will reduce the risk of transmission to personnel that support the overall COVID-19 response,” the Ministry said in a news release.

On Saturday, Health Minister Paul Merriman suggested it would be ill advised to deviate from administering vaccines according to age “because all the organizations will come and say we want to be done first.”

That same day, the Saskatchewan Health Authority began vaccinating Regina police officers at its drive-thru clinic.

“The opportunity came late Saturday to be able to put some police officers through. We thought we might as well keep going and get our mobile clinics at full capacity,” said Merriman on Monday.

According to a release from the Regina Police Service, 140 frontline officers received their first dose over the weekend. Roughly 60 frontline officers are left to receive their first dose in Regina.

Grocery store staff will also be vaccinated at their store pharmacies. However, other occupational groups like teachers, remain excluded.

The Opposition NDP has supported vaccination of front line workers but is critical of how it has been handled.

“This is yet another example of this government’s absolutely chaotic vaccine rollout plan,” said NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat.   

REMAINING HEALTH CARE WORKERS TO BE VACCINATED

Remaining health care employees will be vaccinated using leftover doses from Phase 1 of the Vaccine Delivery Plan.

Sixty-seven per cent of health care workers eligible in Phase 1 received their vaccine, the Ministry said. The leftover 13,152 doses will be used to vaccinate the health care workers not included in Phase 1. This includes outpatient and community services staff, nurses, pharmacists, therapy staff, mental health professionals, social workers, housekeeping, dietary and ward support staff.

“All physicians are being included in priority sequencing as they may be called on to assist in clinical care areas and surge capacity needs,” the Ministry said.

These groups will be directed to book an appointment by phone via a letter from the College of Physicians and Surgeons for doctors or the SHA for other healthcare staff.

PHARMACIES TO BEGIN GIVING VACCINE

On the week of April 26, pharmacies will be able to administer doses to those who are eligible through age-based sequencing as well as to pharmacy staff, and staff of the grocery store where the pharmacy is located.

"As pharmacies begin delivering the COVID-19 vaccine, we know there will be an increased risk of exposure to those frontline staff working in those facilities," Health Minister Paul Merriman said. "By making the COVID-19 vaccine available to staff working in the pharmacy or attached grocery spaces through the pharmacists delivering the vaccine, these workers will be protected."

VACCINE ELIGIBILITY

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has expanded vaccination eligibility to include 50-year-olds at the Regina drive-thru clinic.

As of Monday morning, anyone aged 50-54 on the date of immunization is eligible to receive a vaccine at the site.

The Regina drive-thru clinic started administering Pfizer vaccines to people aged 53 and 54 on Friday.

Anyone 55 years of age and older can book their vaccination online or over the phone.