'Too close to call': Sask. continues effort to outrun variants with vaccines

While Saskatchewan is leading the nation in vaccine doses administered per capita, it also boasts some of the highest variant cases rates in Canada.

A record 10,437 people received a vaccine dose in the province on Wednesday

But Saskatchewan reported nearly 1,000 new variant cases over the past week.

"It’s still a bit too close to call, but it seems like the variants are pulling ahead at this stage," Dr. Cory Neudorf, epidemiology and public health professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said.

Saskatchewan has reported 997 new variant cases, detected through sequencing, in the past seven days.

Regina remains the hot spot in the province, accounting for 688 of those new cases, however, other zones are seeing large increases with the Saskatoon, South Central and South East zones all reporting over 100 new variant cases.

"The point that we’re at in Saskatoon is back where Regina was at in late February where variants are starting to take off," Dr. Neudorf said.

So far, Saskatchewan has administered 205,216 first doses, which accounts for about 17 per cent of the province’s population.

The provincial was originally aiming to have every adult eligible for a dose by the end of June, but as vaccine supply has increased, the time has moved up significantly.

During Thursday’s Question Period, Premier Scott Moe announced that anyone over 50 will be able to get a shot by Monday, followed by all 40 years by Apr. 26, then anyone over 30 by May 10 and all adults a week later on May 17.

"As long as the vaccine supply stays at where it is, or it improves, we’ll be able to meet those targets for sure," Health Minister Paul Merriman said on Thursday.

Starting on Friday, anyone 55-and-over can book a vaccine appointment, while in Regina, people 53 and 54 years old can head to the drive-thru clinic to receive a Pfizer shot.

"We’re expecting big lineups there," Merriman said.

Dr. Neudorf said a lot can still happen in the six weeks between now and when all adults are eligible for a shot.

"It doesn't take long, think of where Regina was at back at the end of February and where they're at now. That's where Saskatoon and the rest of the province will likely be before then," he said.

Dr. Neudorf also noted the rise of the P.1 variant in B.C. and Alberta could add another wrinkle in the race.

"You introduce yet another new variant into the mix and that could tip the balance as well," he said.

To give the vaccines an opportunity to move ahead in the race against variants, Dr. Neudorf said people need to strictly follow the public health measures.

"If you want to stop this pandemic in its tracks right now and give time for the vaccines to work, we need people to behave like they were behaving last spring," he said.

"Do everything we can to bend that curve down and allow vaccines to work and support the businesses with the kind of financial supports they need to stay afloat during that time."

The province has extended the current public health measures until Apr. 26, but hasn’t expanded the restrictions outside of Regina despite the variant case increases in other zones.