1st Moderna vaccines will go to long-term care residents, health-care workers in Sask. Far North

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Saskatchewan has received its first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and those will now be sent to the province's Far North to inoculate long-term care home residents and staff plus other high-priority health care workers.

Health Minister Paul Merriman and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab gave an update on the province's overall vaccine rollout plan on Wednesday.

Shahab said the province received 4,900 Moderna doses earlier in the day and that the first batch from that would go to the Far North West region — which includes a dozen communities such as Ile-a-la-Crosse, where a community-wide COVID-19 outbreak was recently declared — and the Far North Central region, which includes only three communities: Uranium City, Fond du Lac and Stony Rapids.

"This is where we've had high case numbers and high test-positive numbers," Shahab said of those regions.

"We also expect to receive more doses of the Pfizer[-BioNTech] vaccine in Saskatoon and Prince Albert next week," Merriman said.

Special freezers in hand

Merriman and Shahab also gave an update on vaccinations to date.

The vaccination program kicked off on Dec. 15 and so far a total of 2,942 heath care workers have received their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a news release.

Residents and workers at long-term care homes in Prince Albert are next in the queue for those, Shahab said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs to be kept at a temperature around -70 degrees Celcius, which is why the government has already acquired five special freezers distributed between Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, with more on the way, Shahab said.

"While our vaccination program has been going well so far, these are still relatively small numbers of vaccines that we have received from the federal government," Merriman said. "We expect the federal government to begin receiving and distributing much larger numbers of vaccines early in the new year."

Merriman said Saskatchewan is hoping to get more detail from the federal government on exactly how many doses the province will receive each week in order to better plan its distribution of the vaccines.

Doing so in the geographically vast North is "quite complex," Shahab said.

"There's ongoing communications with local leadership to facilitate notification of the [vaccine] locations," he said.