Sask. gov't defends its vaccine delivery record amid backlash in dose-deprived southwest

·3 min read
'We should be rewarded and get our economy back rolling,' Shaunavon Mayor Kyle Bennett says of the need for COVID-19 vaccines. The town has not received a single dose since inoculation efforts began in mid-December.
'We should be rewarded and get our economy back rolling,' Shaunavon Mayor Kyle Bennett says of the need for COVID-19 vaccines. The town has not received a single dose since inoculation efforts began in mid-December.

(Submitted Photo)

The Saskatchewan government says it will continue to send vaccines to areas at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, despite backlash in some communities that have yet to receive any vaccine doses nearly two months into the province's vaccination program.

"It is imperative that limited resources be dedicated to those populations at highest risk," the Ministry of Health said in a statement Wednesday.

The first phase of Saskatchewan's COVID-19 vaccine rollout — which is expected to stretch into April — is prioritizing shots for seniors aged 70 and older, and residents of long-term care homes.

As supply of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine has dwindled worldwide in recent weeks, two regions of Saskatchewan — the southwest and south central — have yet to receive a single dose of the vaccine from the province.

Government of Saskatchewan
Government of Saskatchewan

With not enough vaccine to distribute evenly, "vaccination operational decisions were required to target those areas of the province with the highest attack rates," according to the ministry's statement. The attack rate is calculated as the number of people who become ill divided by the number of people at risk for the illness.

The attack rate has varied from region to region, "and the southwest and south central zones have continued to record low transmission activity," the health ministry's statement went on. "This informed the [vaccine] oversight committee's decision on geographic distribution."

Government of Saskatchewan
Government of Saskatchewan

Health workers administered 638 vaccine doses across the province on Tuesday, with the two largest distributions going to the far northwest and far northeast regions: 256 and 208 doses, respectively.

According to the Saskatchewan COVID-19 dashboard, the gap in active cases between those two regions and the southwest and south central widened considerably beginning in early 2021.

CBC News Graphics
CBC News Graphics

The Ministry of Health said it will continue with its approach once more vaccines become available.

"Phase One will still require a targeted approach based on risk, until all Phase One populations receive their vaccines."

'We should be rewarded'

The ministry's decisions are being scrutinized by some leaders in the regions that have not received any doses.

On Wednesday, Swift Current Mayor Al Bridal said it felt like his southwest region was being penalized for having such low COVID-19 case numbers.

Kyle Bennett, the mayor of Shaunavon, echoed Bridal's concerns.

"So because [other regions] have higher numbers, they have a higher priority and because we're doing a good job at limiting our contacts and keeping our numbers down, we're being punished," Bennett said.

"We should be rewarded [with vaccines] and get our economy back rolling."

Bennett said he has been approached by many concerned seniors and that the town has written the province to ask about the holdup.

"It's a priority, but we're not getting really any answers," Bennett said. "The letter we got back is pretty vague."

The response the town received from the Saskatchewan Health Authority on Monday mentioned COVID-19 risk and outbreak rate as factors in deciding where vaccines go but also cited "distribution logistics from the vaccine hub to ensure there is no vaccine wastage."

Drop in vaccine supply scuttled plan to send doses south: premier

In a COVID-19 news conference on Thursday, Premier Scott Moe said the province had intended to send vaccines to the two regions. Then things changed.

"They were included in a plan that has come and went," Moe said. "Due to the repeated lack of access that we've had with vaccines, we had to utilize those vaccines for second doses in areas of the province as we were going to be beyond what was the recommended timeframe for second doses."

Moe said seniors and long-term care home residents and workers in the south remain a priority and will be vaccinated as soon as possible.

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