Dr. Shahab talks 2nd dose timeline and need for high vaccine uptake in Saskatchewan

·3 min read
Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, speaks at a COVID-19 news update. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, speaks at a COVID-19 news update. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer says he's hopeful the province can offer second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the general public in late May or early June.

"As soon as we have high uptake [of first doses] in all age groups, and as supply allows, we need to start our second doses for [people aged] 18 and over hopefully by the end of May [or] early June," Dr. Saqib Shahab said Tuesday during a COVID-19 news conference.

Walk-in clinics opened up to people aged 52 and over — up from 55 — on Wednesday.

"We want a high vaccine uptake by the end of May in all persons 18 and over," Dr. Shahab said of the next few weeks, as the age bracket at clinics is expected to be gradually lowered more.

Health Minister Paul Merriman, speaking at the same news conference, said he was pleased with the latest statistics on vaccine uptake, including the fact that more than 80 per cent of Saskatchewan residents aged 70 or over have received their first dose.

<cite>(Government of Saskatchewan)</cite>
(Government of Saskatchewan)

The proportion of health-care workers who have been offered vaccines and accepted them remains low, however, standing at only 68 per cent as of Tuesday. Dr. Shahab had flagged that as a concern — and even as the source of some long-term care home outbreaks — last week.

While strongly encouraging everyone to take whatever vaccine they are offered, Merriman said anyone can refuse to take a vaccine if they want to and can be added back in the priority queue at any later date.

Merriman added that he has met with union leaders.

"They are encouraging their membership to get vaccinated," he said. "So it's coming from the government and the management side of it as well as the union."

Vaccine access widening at Saskatoon and other drive-thrus

Health officials said last week they hope to provide all Saskatchewan residents aged 18 and over access to their first dose by mid-May.

Merriman said that remains the goal, even as he acknowledged recent delays in Moderna vaccine shipments to the province.

"That does change things very quickly," Merriman said. "It's very important for everybody to understand that we have ... about a two-to-three-day supply of vaccines on hand.

"If there's delays, that causes some problems."

In Regina — and Regina only — health officials have operated a drive-thru clinic for residents aged 49 to 54 — a more permissive age bracket than in all other clinics in the province. The drive-thru was launched as Regina experienced a rise in variant of concern cases.

Late on Tuesday, the province announced it was further widening the eligible age bracket at the Regina drive-thru to include 48 year olds as well.

At other drive-thrus — which have been administering AstraZeneca vaccines that can currently only be given to people aged 55 and older — the eligibility will be changed to cover people aged 52-54 only. This will be made possible by introducing Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines at all current and future drive-thrus, according to a release from the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

That change will first take effect at the Saskatoon drive-thru, on Wednesday.

A CBC News analysis has found that Saskatchewan would have to significantly increase its daily rate of vaccinations if it hopes to meet its first-dose targets.