Police continue calls for priority vaccination after meeting with Sask. government

·4 min read
A member of the Regina Police Service is seen wearing a mask in a CBC file photo. The Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police says front-line officers should be considered for priority as the province continues its vaccine rollout, considering they're regularly dealing with COVID-19 enforcement measures. (CBC - image credit)
A member of the Regina Police Service is seen wearing a mask in a CBC file photo. The Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police says front-line officers should be considered for priority as the province continues its vaccine rollout, considering they're regularly dealing with COVID-19 enforcement measures. (CBC - image credit)

An incident in Saskatoon is just one of "hundreds" of examples pointing to the need for police officers to get priority access to COVID-19 vaccines, according to the president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers.

On Saturday, Saskatoon police said in a tweet that three officers are in isolation from their families after distributing naloxone to a person who was suffering an overdose, and who turned out to have COVID-19.

In the post, city police said one of the officers was in isolation for their fourth time. But Casey Ward, who represents police officers across Saskatchewan, says the incident itself is far from isolated.

"Our officers are responding to calls like that daily," the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers president said. Police often face volatile situations, he said, like one on Friday night where officers had to administer first aid to a victim suffering injuries.

"Our officers aren't afforded the time to don their full PPE," said Ward, who also serves as president of the Regina Police Association.

As the vaccination rollout continues, "our officers are so frustrated that there's a tool out there, that can protect them, that the government has that they're just not willing to prioritize and give our officers so they are safe," he said.

Ward says while he understands the province's system is age-based, there have been situations where others on the front line have been vaccinated outside of the eligible brackets.

While others are also asking the province for priority, they're not subjected to the same environments or type of work as front-line police officers, Ward said.

"They don't live in the world we live in."

Earlier this week, 280 doctors called on the province to implement tighter restrictions and make changes to the vaccination rollout, especially as the more infectious coronavirus variants of concern become more prevalent in Saskatchewan.

Ward says the work of policing can be challenging to begin with, but being away from family due to COVID-19 isolation adds another layer of stress, and the mental health and well-being of officers is being jeopardized.

"We've had officers who have had to isolate from their families five times," he said.

Representatives from the police federation, along with the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police, had a conference call with both Corrections Minister Christine Tell and Health Minister Paul Merriman on Saturday.

Ward says police officials are trying to explain their reasoning to the province, and while there is a dialogue, he says they don't appear to be getting the message about how badly the vaccine is needed.

"They're getting about 10,000 vaccines a day. We're asking for approximately 1,900," he said. "The entire front line in the province, including the RCMP, could be done."

Limited supply: health minister

Addressing reporters following question period later on Saturday, Merriman said while he understands concerns from doctors and other front-line workers, numbers appear to be stabilizing, and that's a trend the province wants to continue.

Due to limited vaccine supply, the government isn't in a position where it can add groups to the vaccination rollout without taking those shots from another group, Merriman said. He added he has been in communication with groups representing workers who feel they have been left behind, saying their time will come.

"We are doing about 10,000 to 12,000 [vaccinations] a day right now," said Merriman.

"Right now, we've got about five days of supply on hand for booked appointments that are out there right now. The age sequencing is moving along very quickly — it is going to as long as the vaccine supply stays there," he said.

"I understand that there are concerns, but if we can say that in five weeks we can get to everybody in the province, I think that's a very successful timeline."

Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper and Regina police Chief Evan Bray have both advocated for front-line officers to be vaccinated. In a recent tweet thanking the Saskatoon Tribal Council and Lighthouse for sharing extra doses with front-line officers, Cooper said "298 more doses would vaccinate the rest of our front line."

Ward says police officers are ready and willing to set up on-site clinics and provide priority lists for which officers would need the vaccine, such as major crimes and technical units. If the province provided the shots, the issue would be "an easy fix," he said.

"Our chiefs have said they will open up clinics, mobile clinics within our services, they'll call all of our members in," he said. "We will make this work. If they give us a time slot and the vaccines, we will get this done."