Saskatchewan looking to include more health workers in vaccination plan: premier

·3 min read

REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his government will look for ways to include more health-care workers for early vaccinations, but can't guarantee it will happen because of a scare supply of doses.

Moe said Thursday he has heard concerns over more health-care workers not being included in the province’s age-based mass vaccination plan. It's hoped the program will start in the spring, but that depends on a promise by Ottawa that vaccine deliveries will increase.

Doctors and nurses working directly with COVID-19 patients are currently eligible for a shot from the limited doses in the province.

So far, about 46,000 doses have been given — a figure that also includes adults in remote communities, people over 70 and seniors and staff in long-term care.

Moe said officials will look at whether more health-care workers at greater risk of exposure can be included in the early effort.

"It isn't going to be all of the groups across the health-care sector," Moe said during a briefing.

"There are going to be a number of folks in the health-care sector that are going to be under the mass vaccination age priority."

The Saskatchewan Medical Association, which represents around 2,600 doctors, argues more health-care workers ought to be a priority because it would make patients feel safer.

Association president Barb Konstantynowicz said an earlier draft of the vaccine plan had more of them scheduled to be vaccinated early, but the province didn't follow through in a document released this week.

It prioritizes immunizations by age, starting with anyone between 60 and 69. There are exceptions for people using emergency shelters, those with intellectual disabilities living in group homes and some with medical conditions, such as certain cancers.

“Vaccination planning isn’t just about vaccinating those at highest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, but of protecting health-system capacity by vaccinating health-care workers as soon as possible so that they aren’t taken out of the workforce by even a mild COVID-19 infection," Konstantynowicz said in a statement.

The province said its goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible when more supply becomes available, which is part of the reason it chose age as the deciding factor instead of selecting certain groups.

Moe reiterated Thursday that it's seniors who suffer more serious cases of COVID-19.

Teachers, police and correctional workers have also voiced concerns that their front-line staff don't qualify for early vaccination.

"Ultimately, we just don't have enough vaccines to make that available to everybody," said Moe.

The chair of a bargaining unit representing the province's jail staff said correctional facilities should be included in the early stages because they are congregate living settings, which experts say are more vulnerable to spread of the virus.

"It’s unacceptable for the government to abandon correctional officers and staff working in young offender facilities," said Barry Nowoselsky of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union.

“Not only are the staff being put at risk, but this plan also jeopardizes the health and safety of their families and anyone they interact with in their home communities."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb, 11, 2021

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press