Government adds Sask. first responders to vaccine plan, including police and firefighters

·4 min read
Regina police were offered two windows for priority vaccinations over the weekend.  (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Regina police were offered two windows for priority vaccinations over the weekend. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The provincial government is updating its vaccination plan to include first responders in Saskatchewan such as police officers and firefighters, along with public health inspectors.

Mobile vaccination units will be dispatched to central workplace areas to administer the prioritized vaccinations, according to a news release from the province sent on Monday.

The units are currently targeted toward people in communal settings, like group homes and people who live or work at shelters, but the province anticipates focusing on first responders afterward, "within two weeks upon the completion of congregate living setting vaccinations," the release said.

However, some police officers had a chance to get vaccinated over the weekend.

Regina police were offered two windows to get a COVID-19 vaccine — one on Saturday night and the other on Sunday night — according to Casey Ward, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers.

Ward said officers were lining up at the drive-thru clinic within minutes.

"That's how much it meant to them," he said.

"There [were] people that were shedding tears afterward.... They couldn't believe that it finally happened after all this time, and just a huge sense of relief that they had been prioritized."

The province said the window took place while wait times were low.

"Our members want this so much.… We even said we'd open up like a mini-clinic at the police service here for Regina and the surrounding areas, and we'll get our members through."

Regina police confirm 140 officers received vaccine

After the government's announcement Monday afternoon, Regina Police Service spokesperson Elizabeth Popowich sent a news release indicating 115 officers received a dose Saturday evening and 25 on Sunday.

She said a further 60 front-line officers will receive a dose once supply allows.

"Front-line members are those uniformed police officers who are responding to COVID and emergency calls in the community, and whose work necessitates direct contact with the public in dynamic situations," Popowich said.

Health Minister Paul Merriman told the media on Monday afternoon that the government reached out to the first responders on Saturday because of a lull in the drive-thru in Regina.

When asked why teachers were not included in the vaccination expansion, Merriman said police officers and firefighters work in "uncontrolled environments."

Schools in the Regina area at Level 4, which is online learning, until at least April 26.

Following question period on Saturday morning, Merriman spoke out against "micro-targeting" certain groups.

"If we're targeting everybody, then we're targeting no one. Then we're going in micro-targeting every group because all of the organizations will come and say we want to be done first."

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.

The same day, representatives from the police federation and the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police advocated for front-line vaccination in a conference call with Merriman and Corrections Minister Christine Tell.

Moe suggests work-site vaccines, then backtracks

Last week, Premier Scott Moe told a symposium of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that a mobile clinic for work sites "is one thing we may consider in the coming days and weeks" as the province prioritizes "some of our larger group gatherings and setting aside the age limit just to focus some vaccines on those folks in this industry and other industries."

Moe argued that adding other groups to Saskatchewan's vaccine priority list "will do nothing but slow down any vaccination plan, including ours in Saskatchewan."

Later in the day, he called the comments "blue-skying" and maintained the age-based criteria was how Saskatchewan would continue its rollout.

Pharmacists to offer shots

Pharmacists will also start administering vaccines the week of April 26 or earlier depending on vaccine supply, the government announced Monday.

They will provide vaccines to the general public in pharmacies through the age-based sequence, along with pharmacy and grocery staff working in the facility where vaccines are offered.

Merriman did not have a total number of potential workers who could get a vaccination based on the changes.

Ninety-six new COVID-19 cases were reported in Regina Monday, out of 300 total in the province. The majority of Saskatchewan's cases with variants of concern — 2,423 out of 3,485 — have been reported in Regina.