Some Sask. school staff under 40 being denied vaccine appointments

Some Saskatchewan school staff trying to book COVID-19 vaccine shots before they return to in-person learning on Monday are being denied the ability to schedule their appointments.

According to the province, Saskatchewan's COVID-19 vaccination booking system was made available to residents 40-years and older, as well as a variety of remaining frontline employees, starting at 8 a.m. Friday. Teachers and educational staff are included on that list.

A staff member at school in Regina who asked to remain anonymous, said when she called to book an appointment, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) staff member told her she would have to wait for a call from an SHA supervisor in the next number of days after hearing the patient was under 40-years-old.

“We want to make sure that we're verifying getting the right people in that are on the priority list and it is a little bit of a process, but it's very important that we make sure that the right people are getting into the vaccination clinics at the right time,” Minister of Health Paul Merriman said.

Merriman says it’s important people remember there are also drive throughs and mobile clinics available.

“My phone call this morning was my third attempt at finding a vaccine. The drive through will be my fourth. It’s extremely frustrating to have such an ineffective system. At this point my headspace is ‘don’t get your hopes up they’ll even accept you on Sunday,’” the school staff member said.

The school staff member said she asked for a better timeline, and the SHA member said they will receive a call in the next number of days. Adding the system does not allow SHA staff to book anyone under the age of 40. The SHA member told her only an SHA supervisor can book an appointment for someone under 40.

“The pharmacies are just starting this process so it's going to be, there's going to be a little bit of ebb and flow to it,” Merriman said.

The staff member worries she won’t have a vaccine in time for in-person learning on Monday. She said she has been put on numerous waitlists for pharmacies, and will also attempt to get a vaccine at the drive-thru in Regina on Sunday.

The president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) doesn’t support returning to in-class learning so soon and said teachers and staff should be vaccinated before gathering again.

“The numbers in the Regina region are just as high as they were when they went to online learning. So we’d feel a lot better if we waited until teachers were vaccinated, have that two to three weeks build up immunity, and then get rapid testing up and running. It seems like it’s a bit of a rush decision,” STF President Patrick Maze said.

Maze said about 7,000 teachers plus other educational staff still need a vaccine.

He added that it’s understandable there would be challenges with so many essential workers trying to book an appointment, and he prefers this approach over teachers having to wait for their age eligibility.

But he’s also hearing about some teachers and staff being denied any opportunity for an appointment

“We’re trying to deal with those situations in a one off basis, my understanding is out STF executive director has already been in contact with the Ministry of Education and they are in touch with Health and trying to clear up any misunderstandings,” Maze said.

Maze says the STF is also renewing calls for Saskatoon schools to return to online learning as well.

Opposition leader Ryan Meili says the situation has been made more complicated than it needs to be.

“This is another example of a chaotic response. This is a government that rejected the recommendations of the SHA's Expert Policy panel on the vaccine rollout, has been back and forth changing things over and over again, and now they're telling people that they're priority that they have no way to actually access that priority service,” Meili said.

Merriman added the Johnson and Johnson vaccine could be available for Saskatchewan residents by Tuesday next week, so more drive thrus can be opened.

CTV has reached out to the SHA for comment.