Residents concerned as Sask. government continues to open up vaccine eligibility despite lack of supply

·4 min read
Vaccine supply dried up in Regina April 16, and it's been scarce provincewide ever since. (Carlos Barria/Reuters - image credit)
Vaccine supply dried up in Regina April 16, and it's been scarce provincewide ever since. (Carlos Barria/Reuters - image credit)

Some Saskatchewan residents are concerned that the provincial government is opening up vaccine eligibility too quickly, especially since the province currently does not have enough vaccine in stock.

Forty-six-year-old Regina resident Erin Klassen's age group became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on April 16.

"When I was notified, which I heard on the news, I had about a four-hour window to get down to the drive-thru clinic. And unfortunately, the lineup was already too long and that was it. The city ran out," Klassen said.

April 16 happened to be the day vaccine supply dried up in Regina. Supply has been scarce provincewide ever since.

As of Wednesday, 42-year-olds have been approved to book appointments. On Friday, eligibility will open up to 40-year-olds as well.

But Klassen said she still can't book an appointment. She said she has tried multiple times through the province's SASKVAX line, but has been told her best bet is to get in on a cancellation.

"They said they didn't know too much either and that they were getting their information from the news channels," said Klassen.

Now, Klassen is worried her 46-year-old age group will have to compete with the newly-added eligible groups.

"I'm more than happy to wait my turn. I just feel like this race to keep advancing quickly may be creating a gap. And if there's a big gap, a portion of the population that got washed over, that's just not effective vaccination strategy," she said.

"If there are these larger gaps occurring because of supply chain issues, the province to be really cognizant of looping back and making sure nobody got washed over. Because right now it feels that 46-year-olds are kind of left on the margins."

Change of language

Dr. Dennis Kendel, a retired physician and health policy consultant, echoes this concern.

The province previously stated that all Saskatchewan residents who want a shot will get their first jab by mid-May.
Now, the province says all will be eligible by mid-May.

"There's a big difference, of course, between simply being eligible by mid-May and actually having everybody who wants the first shot to get it by mid-May," said Kendel.

"I do worry when you change the language from actually ensuring that the shots are delivered ... to simply eligible, you're sort of punting any accountability for not hitting that target because you've said they're eligible, but there may not be the capacity to meet that need by mid-May.

"It is a tendency to say that political goals have been met, but they may not be deliverable, frankly."

Dr. Dennis Kendel is a retired physician and health policy consultant,
Dr. Dennis Kendel is a retired physician and health policy consultant,(Jen Quesnel/CBC)

The provincial government has not provided a recent update on when vaccine supply will arrive, but has said in various news conferences that it will be soon.

In a statement to CBC News, the province said that appointments fill up fast when age eligibility opens to a younger group, particularly in urban centres like Regina and Saskatoon

"There may be additional clinic options in rural and northern communities, and residents are encouraged to consider those alternate locations for immunization," said the province.

Travel restrictions related to the increase of variants of concern in Saskatchewan do not apply to essential medical appointments, such as immunization.

"Residents — including those in Regina and surrounding communities — may travel to a community outside of their own to attend an immunization clinic, but are advised to not make any other stops or visits aside from the immunization clinic," said the province.

The government says that approximately 10,000 vaccine appointments were added on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, many Saskatchewan senior residents living in their communities are still waiting for their second dose.

"We were essentially promised that we would get our second shot within four months. I think within the four months people shouldn't be too anxious. There is a reasonable level of immunity. But if you start missing the four month target, then our immunity levels will probably drop off," said Kendel.

The province told CBC News that second doses will start as vaccine supplies allow.