Now is the time to employ a ring vaccination plan in Regina: Former health official

·4 min read
Now is the time to employ a ring vaccination plan in Regina: Former health official
Dr. Anne Huang, a former Saskatchewan deputy medical health officer, says now is the time to implement a bold new strategy to beat back the escalating number of COVID-19 variants of concern cases.  (Don Somers/CBC - image credit)
Dr. Anne Huang, a former Saskatchewan deputy medical health officer, says now is the time to implement a bold new strategy to beat back the escalating number of COVID-19 variants of concern cases. (Don Somers/CBC - image credit)

A former Saskatchewan deputy medical health officer is calling for the province to implement a bold new strategy that she believes would halt the spread of COVID-19 variants of concern in Regina.

Now is the time to implement a "ring vaccination" plan in Regina due to the high concentration of COVID-19 variants of concern (VoC) cases, said Dr. Anne Huang.

The provincial capital had 640 of the 748 presumptive VoC in Saskatchewan, as of Monday.

Regina also has the majority of confirmed VoC cases, with 141 of the 149 cases located in the Regina zone.

"The variants of concern spread rapidly and can cause more severe disease, and if we do not contain it right now the same scenarios will play out in the rest of the province," Huang said.

A ring vaccination strategy

Huang's proposal would see COVID-19 vaccines given to all those connected to known cases and in locations with active outbreaks.

"A ring vaccination strategy, as the name implies that you vaccinate around an individual [with a confirmed case], you vaccinate around the site of an active outbreak, and you vaccinate everyone that's come into contact with the cases," Huang said.

A second so-called ring, made up of anyone in the household of a person with a confirmed case, would also be vaccinated.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on Huang's proposal.

Huang, who was the deputy medical officer for the northern population health unit, from January 2019 until January 2020, compared the ring process to creating a firebreak around a raging forest fire.

"The virus is seeking fuel and the fuel are new human hosts who have not been infected, who are susceptible to it," Huang said.

By depriving the virus of any fuel you limit its ability to spread, she said. It would also reduce the number of unnecessary deaths and long-haul COVID-19 sufferers.

Change in priorities

But the proposal does come with challenges.

A ring vaccination plan would only work if the VoC are mostly confined to Regina and not already spreading throughout the rest of the province.

The strategy would also require the rest of the province to "hold the line" with ongoing public health efforts as the focus shifts to controlling the VoC in Regina.

That would also mean pooling available vaccines from other health zones and transitioning them to the Queen City in order to begin a vaccination blitz.

"You'd vaccinate as quickly and as comprehensively as you could to contain an outbreak," Huang said.

With a steady supply of vaccines arriving in Saskatchewan the focus would de-prioritize vaccinating by age and focus on containing the spread of VoC.

WATCH | Dr. Anne Huang offers mask advice:

In a statement Friday, Health Minster Paul Merriman, said many of the recent cases are a result of people going to work and public places while symptomatic.

Any change in approach would mean that the province would need to provide workers with an opportunity to stay home if they are sick, Huang said.

"I think it's worth trying to contain the spread of B.117 in Regina right now with all of the resources that we have and that we could redirect," she said.

Calls for more restrictions

Huang's proposal comes as at least four Regina politicians are calling for an urgent meeting to request more COVID-19 restrictions for the Queen City.

"I think this is a part of our job at being elected leaders to do whatever we can to respond to the needs in our community," said Coun. Shanon Zachidniak of Regina's Ward 8, who is one of the councillors calling for an urgent meeting.

It's necessary as the number of cases and those with VoC variants continues to grow, she said.

The councillor has already pulled her children out of school as a jump start on the impending shift to e-learning in Regina.

"Schools have been identified as an area of concern and to me, it was a way for us to try and be helpful in general," she said.

Zachidniak said she would defer to health experts on what restrictions should be implemented.

The councillor said she hopes to get the discussion on Wednesday's budget meeting agenda, although that would require unanimous consent from the 11 council members at the meeting.

If that doesn't work, Zachidniak said she would look at calling a special meeting on the subject.

Regina Mayor Sandra Masters was not available for comment on Tuesday. CBC was told she would be available for an interview after Wednesday's budget meeting.