Nearly 70% of Sask's COVID-19 vaccines remain in freezers after holiday slowdown

·4 min read
Nearly 70% of Sask's COVID-19 vaccines remain in freezers after holiday slowdown

Saskatchewan's distribution of COVID-19 vaccines slowed during the holiday season.

As of Jan. 5, 31.1 per cent of vaccines the province has received have been administered, leaving 68.9 per cent still in the freezer.

Saskatchewan has received 13,675 COVID-19 vaccines: 8,775 from Pfizer/BioNTech and another 4,900 from Moderna to be distributed to the province's north.

Since mid-December, 4,254 doses have been administered, according to the province.

"I'm disturbed by that low of a turnout," Barbara Cape, president of SEIU-West, said.

Some members of her union have received Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, including those who work at Parkside Extendicare, but others are waiting.

"We need to turn our minds to a military precision rollout for how we do this immunization," Cape said. "I'm not saying let's bring Gen. Rick Hillier [who is overseeing vaccine distribution in Ontario] out here to Saskatchewan, but I am saying we've had months to get ready for this, and unfortunately ... we've kind of dropped the ball."

Holiday slowdown

Prior to the New Year, the province's distribution rate for the vaccines was hovering around 43 per cent, says Dr. Suresh Tikoo, director of vaccinology at USask's School of Public Health.

Dr. Tikoo said that if vaccine distribution doesn't increase in the weeks ahead, Saskatchewan risks falling behind.

"We had the Christmas break and people who are vaccinating — and people who have to get the vaccination — they were with families. So this one week delay has caused this delay in getting good coverage," Dr. Tikoo said.

However, with the holidays over and supply coming in regulary (6,825 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines a week), there should be no further delay going forward, said Dr. Tikoo.

"I would be worried if we had a 29 or 30 per cent coverage in the next two weeks because then I would really be concerned," Dr. Tikoo said. "You don't want vaccines to be lying in your freezer. You want to get it into arms, so that we can get the people vaccinated as quick as possible and we can really stop the transmission and get over this COVID business."

The same sentiments were expressed by Canada's public medical health officer Dr. Theresa Tam on Tuesday. She said provinces need to vaccinate as many people as possible with the supplies they have.

CBC has reached out to the provincial Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority about what areas of the province would be next in line for vaccination.

Confusion around who, when and where

The slowdown of distribution has caused confusion for those outside of the health-care system, said Cape.

"How do you and I know when our time to be immunized happens?" Cape asked.

"The communication around the immunization process has to be far more structured, far more clear, far more frequent, so the rest of the population understands what happens next. Because in a pandemic, that seems to be all our overriding questions."

Cape said retired health-care workers have offered to help inoculate people, but they too have been confused on whether that help is wanted.

The province has set big goals for itself. Early in December, Minister of Health Paul Merriman stated priority populations will begin getting immunized in late December, followed by the general population in April.

However, with the province immunizing people at an average of 193 doses a day, it remains unclear when those in need will get their turn.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the province still plans to meet its targets.

Vaccinating the far north

The province declined to provide details on who will receive the vaccine next. According to the Athabasca Health Authority, long-term care residents and seniors in the far north will begin getting immunized on Friday.

About 700 people in Black Lake, Fond Du Lac, Stoney Rapid, Uranium City and Camsell Portage will get the Moderna vaccine, said Derek Keller, executive director of primary health care at Athabasca Health Authority.

"Hopefully we'll get a great response and use up all our doses of the vaccine," said Keller.

"Some people are very excited, myself being one of them, to get the vaccine. It's the start to the end of the pandemic."

The province said in a news release that the first doses of the Moderna vaccine were distributed Tuesday in Île-à-la-Crosse and in La Loche.