Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the government will not mandate that schoolchildren must receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
More than 24,000 currently eligible grade school students across the province are not fully vaccinated.
As of Sunday, 76,430 youth aged 12 to 17 had received their first dose, while 66,915 had been fully vaccinated. Both first and second doses in this age group are trending up. According to the Ministry of Health, there are 91,446 people in this age group.
Saskatchewan does not have and rules requiring children to be immunized to attend school.
"There are a province or two that have a few vaccinations for school attendance, Saskatchewan is not among them and we will not be moving to make the COVID vaccine the exception," Moe said Thursday.
Moe encouraged parents to get themselves and their children vaccinated.
On Sunday, 54 of the 103 new unvaccinated cases in Saskatchewan were were children under 12.
Vaccine for kids 5 to 11 under review
Health Canada is currently reviewing Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for children aged five to 11.
Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada said children under 12 account for 20 per cent of all infections, which is the highest of all age groups.
In October, the federal government said it will have 2.9 million doses of the vaccine ready soon after it is approved
Last week, children ages five to 11 in the the United States began receiving their shots. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the vaccine for children and last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control unanimously approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in that age group.
In its trial, the company used doses one-third the size of those given to adults now.
In October, the Saskatchewan government announced its plans to vaccinate children 11 and under. There will be 190 pediatric vaccine clinics will open in more than 100 communities in the province.
The province expects to received 112,000 initial doses in early- to mid-November.
"We have a team that is ready to go, to make those vaccines easily available in and around or schools and communities around the province when we receive the approval," Moe said Thursday
Moe said he hopes the vaccination rates will be in the 90 per cent region for those under the age of 12.
Opposition motion catches minister's attention
In question period Thursday, Education Minister Dustin Duncan said the opposition supported a policy to remove unvaccinated students from in-person learning.
"What we're not going to do is what that member called for and that is to kick thousands upon thousands of students out of school today indefinitely," Duncan said.
On Oct. 28, Opposition House Leader Vicki Mowat introduced a motion for an emergency debate.
"I would move: That the Legislative Assembly calls upon the Government of Saskatchewan to implement all public health measures identified by the province's medical health officers in their letter to the Minister of Health dated Oct. 21, 2021," Mowat said.
The government members voted down the motion.
The opposition's emergency motion was for a debate on an Oct. 21 letter signed by 21 Saskatchewan medical health officers.
The letter includes the following recommendations:
Proof of vaccination required with no negative test option for:
School staff, students 12 and older, and households of students under 12 that aren't vaccinated.
All daycare staff.
All facilities hosting youth sports or extracurricular activities, including participants, staff, coaches, volunteers and spectators.
The medical health officers said their recommendations should be in place until the new year and should be tied to 85 per cent of the population being fully immunized and the health system being stabilized.
As of Sunday, 68 per cent of the province's total population was fully immunized.
Meili says NDP does not support a vaccine mandate for students
On Thursday, Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said his party does not support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for children.
"Our position is clear, we don't believe we should be requiring this, certainly not at this point," Meili said.
The Opposition leader accused the government of creating a "wedge" over vaccination of children.
"I got really concerned when I heard the minister of education, the minister of health, the premier of the province really ramp up the rhetoric around the wedge issue of kids and their vaccinations. That is not what we need to be doing right now. We should not be feeding into the fears that parents may have."
Meili said the government should be promoting the vaccination of children.
"This is not the moment to being playing political games."
Duncan said in the house Thursday that the NDP's motion was to implement all measures from the doctors letter.
"I'm old enough to remember last Thursday when that member, directed by her Leader of the Opposition — and maybe not supported by all the members but at least supported by him — introduced the following motion, 'That the Legislative Assembly calls upon the Government of Saskatchewan to implement all public health measures.' Not some, not a few, not let's have a debate about which ones to choose — all measures."
Opposition chief of staff Katherine Norton said Friday that the motion was for a debate of the recommendations in the letter.
"This motion was not actually moved, though we sought leave to have that debate. From our perspective, this is a far cry from a policy position on mandatory vaccinations for kids."
Regina leads all region in vaccination for 12-17
According to the government's most recent vaccination figures, 84 per cent of those 12 to 17 provincewide have received their first dose, while 73 per cent are fully vaccinated.
For first dose rates, those 12-17 are ahead of both 18-29 and 30-39, with the latter age categories at 82 and 80 per cent respectively.
On a regional basis, Regina leads the way, with 91 per cent of kids 12-17 having one dose and 83 per cent fully vaccinated.
Saskatoon is next with 86 per cent one dose and 78 per cent fully vaccinated. The northeast region has 82 per cent with a first dose and the south central had 81 per cent.
All other regions are further below the provincial average.