Sask. doctor says province should take notes from Manitoba's vaccine uptake strategy

·4 min read
The health authority said since the announcement of the proof-of-vaccination policy, more doses have been going into the arms of Saskatchewan residents. Yet, Saskatchewan’s vaccination rate remains to be one of the lowest in Canada.   (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The health authority said since the announcement of the proof-of-vaccination policy, more doses have been going into the arms of Saskatchewan residents. Yet, Saskatchewan’s vaccination rate remains to be one of the lowest in Canada. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A Saskatchewan doctor is calling on the provincial government to do more to increase vaccination rates, after Manitoba announced it will be spending millions to help doctors and other health-care workers boost the number of first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines in that province.

Saskatchewan's vaccination rates dropped in the weeks after the province lifted all public COVID-19 restrictions on July 11. Now they're climbing once again. Thousands of doses have been administered since Premier Scott Moe announced a proof-of-vaccination policy on Sept. 16.

However, on Tuesday Saskatchewan recorded one of its worst days in the COVID-19 pandemic, breaking multiple pandemic-related records.

The province reported 10 more people with COVID died. There was also a record 311 people in hospital with the disease, with 65 in intensive care, also a record.

Saskatchewan's Health Minister Paul Merriman, chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and Saskatchewan Health Authority's emergency operations centre commander Derek Miller are scheduled to provide a COVID-19 update at 2 p.m. CST Wednesday.

Sask. has one of lowest vaccination rates

Last Tuesday, Manitoba Premier Kelvin Goertzen announced $14 million to help doctors develop community-focused and one-on-one outreach with their patients who are not fully vaccinated.

It is intended to help doctors eliminate misinformation about the vaccines and offer opportunities for patients to talk about their vaccine questions and concerns, according to Manitoba Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon.

Saskatchewan has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. As of Tuesday, 71.7 per cent of Saskatchewan's eligible population is fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Manitoba is at 80.3 per cent.

Dr. Madhav Sarda, a child psychiatrist at the University of Saskatchewan, said Manitoba's approach of giving doctors more tools to increase uptake is very useful, as it gets people to see the health-care providers that they already trust.

"A pro to the Manitoba system is that you have people who already have a connection with their family doctor and who already have a relationship there," Sarda said.

"Information is more reliable when it comes from someone who you trust and it has more meaning that way."

Submitted by Dr. Madhav Sarda
Submitted by Dr. Madhav Sarda

Sarda added that in health care, relationships and trust between doctors and patients can make all the difference.

"Relationships is what helps us move people along to accept treatment, to accept diagnoses, to improve their their health care, to improve their life, to make changes in their lives."

Premier's comments on doctors 'disheartening'

Premier Scott Moe has said that vaccines are the only way out of this pandemic and recently said he hopes to see the medical community do more to dispel COVID-19 misinformation.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Tamara Hinz said Moe's remarks were "disheartening," since many doctors have been educating and combating misinformation from the start of the pandemic.

"I think it just would have been nice to have that acknowledged, to maybe have him reach out and partner with health-care workers who are doing this kind of work already," Hinz said.

Sarda acknowledged that no one approach will boost vaccination rates and said "we need all hands on deck."

"We need double, triple what we have. We need to be going in every rural community," Sarda said. "Just go to every major workplace, every potash mine, every large place of employment and be doing pop-up clinics right there."

Ministry of Health responds

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health said it has tried to increase awareness and education regarding COVID-19 and vaccines in many ways, including by spending more than $1.6 million to date on online and print media content, as well as advertising in Cree, Dene and Michif languages.

This is on top of campaigns funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and unpaid content such as news releases and social media posts, the ministry said.

"In the summer, the Ministry of Health also sent letters to all households that had one or more residents who were eligible to receive a vaccination, but who had not yet been immunized. In addition, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and its partners are working to promote vaccine uptake and educate the public about the benefits, safety of the vaccine and cut through misinformation," the ministry wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"The SHA works with First Nation and Métis Leaders, and other key stakeholders to increase vaccine uptake among other members," and has held pop-up and walk-in vaccination clinics, the ministry said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it has recently doubled COVID vaccination clinics and that there are now more options to book online — in addition to outreach and pop-up clinics.

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