More doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in Saskatchewan as early as next Monday, the province announced via news release Thursday.
A shipment containing 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Saskatchewan Tuesday afternoon. A doctor and emergency room nurse in Regina became the first to be vaccinated that evening.
More doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in Saskatoon next week, possibly by Dec. 21, the province said in its release. It did not mention how many doses are on the way.
"Saskatchewan has been ready to receive and waiting to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine, as I said last week," Health Minister Paul Merriman said in the release.
"So it was welcome news when we learned that the first shipment would arrive before the holidays. I consider this the best gift to see more health care workers in our province being immunized, and look forward to delivering it to more of the people at highest risk."
Saskatchewan is taking a phased approach to vaccine delivery. Health-care workers working directly with COVID-19 patients in Regina General and Pasqua Hospitals, as well as testing and assessment centres, were the first priority group.
The province announced that it is expanding its criteria in Regina to include "key front-line staff" in the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, paramedics and anaesthetists. There are more groups being considered as well, depending on uptake, it said.
"These additional groups have been identified given they are also at higher-risk of contracting COVID-19, and because of their work with at-risk patients," Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said in a news release.
"Of course, our supplies are limited, so we will look to continue providing additional doses to these groups as more vaccine is received."
The doses going to Saskatoon will target 1,950 health-care workers in Saskatoon's intensive care units, emergency rooms, and testing and assessment centres, Livingstone later said during a news conference Thursday.
The vaccine will be administered at Merlis Belsher Place at the University of Saskatchewan, he added.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a two-dose vaccine. The second dose is supposed to be administered 21 days after the first.
So far, 250 people have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. There are 301 people booked to receive it Thursday, the province said.
"It has been a very successful immunization start in Saskatchewan, but we have to be patient and wait for the vaccine supplies to come and be given throughout the province over the coming weeks and months," Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said Thursday.
"This is the first week after many weeks that we have positive news to report and I think we should all be congratulating each other for that. Stay the course and enjoy the holiday season by sticking to our households and connecting virtually with our friends and family."
After this initial run of vaccinations, the province will shift its priority to staff and residents at care homes, other health-care workers, seniors and people at least 50 years old living in remote and northern Saskatchewan.
The SHA has already started planning for the vaccine rollout to care homes, said Derek Miller, the health authority's chief of emergency operations, during a news conference.
Indigenous and First Nations were not listed as a priority group in the vaccine delivery plan. Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, told CBC News that was because logistics of transporting and shipping the vaccine needed to be figured out.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored in ultra-low temperature freezers at -70 C. The Moderna vaccine, which is in the final stages of approval, needs to be stored at -20 C.
The federal government announced earlier this week that northern, remote and Indigenous communities would be first in line for the Moderna vaccine, if and when it is approved by Health Canada.
The Saskatchewan government expects the vaccine to be available to the general public by April 2021, but that depends on vaccine manufacturing.
In the meantime, the province urges residents to continue adhering to public health guidance such as physical distancing, proper hand hygiene and wearing a mask when inside a public place.
Saskatchewan residents must adhere to the public health rules because the health-system is still strained, Livingstone said Thursday.
There are currently 3,987 known active COVID-19 cases in the province. Of those, 126 people are being treated in hospital, including 22 in the ICU.