Hundreds of vehicles line up as Sask. offers Pfizer vaccines at Regina drive-thru for people aged 53 and 54

·4 min read
Hundreds of vehicles line up at the Regina drive-thru vaccine clinic on Friday morning. (Paul Dornstauder/CBC - image credit)
Hundreds of vehicles line up at the Regina drive-thru vaccine clinic on Friday morning. (Paul Dornstauder/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan government is tweaking its approach to delivering COVID-19 vaccines at its Regina drive-thru clinic at Evraz Place.

Beginning on this morning, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine became available on a first-come, first-served basis to people aged 53 and 54 only.

"We're expecting big lineups there," Health Minister Paul Merriman said. Hundreds of vehicles lined up before 8:30 a.m. CST Friday. At one point in the morning, the gates were temporarily closed to allow space to open up in the parking lot.

The age criteria may be expanded "in the coming days," according to a news release issued Thursday afternoon.

The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University will no longer be offered at that location, according to the Ministry of Health.

AstraZeneca demand at drive-thru had diminished

Thursday's announcement came after officials said demand for AstraZeneca at the drive-thru had decreased in recent days, though Merriman said he did not believe there was vaccine hesitancy at work and said all vaccines being offered in Saskatchewan are safe.

The province limited AstraZeneca doses to people aged 55 and over on the advice of Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), over concerns about rare blot clots associated with the vaccine in other parts of the world.

One photo of the drive-thru without a single car lined up outside on Tuesday morning made the rounds on Twitter.

"We're hemmed in right now by the age limit," Health Minister Paul Merriman said of that location.

Moe says he'll take any vaccine, whatever the brand

Premier Scott Moe also stressed that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe to take for those in the prescribed age range.

"I'm going to take the first vaccine that becomes available to me," Moe said. "It really doesn't matter to me whether it's AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson, whether it's Pfizer or Moderna."

But both men said the government was considering various options to get the line moving again. Saskatchewan has led all provinces in quickly administering vaccines for much of 2021.

Moe previously hinted a vaccine substitution at the Regina drive-thru was possible.

"We are currently looking at opportunities that we would have to provide some Pfizer vaccine into that drive-thru facility so that we would be able to start reducing the age criteria [there]," he said.

Moe added he's also eager to hear from federal Canadian health officials about any potential change to the AstraZeneca age restriction.

Merriman said the province is mulling whether to give out second doses to people who have already received their first AstraZeneca doses, as well as whether to administer the vaccine through pharmacies.

"We're looking at a lot of different avenues to be able to move this AstraZeneca," Merriman said.

As of Tuesday, Saskatchewan had 36,000 AstraZeneca doses sitting unused, he said.

Merriman said what's happening in Regina with AstraZeneca demand is not indicative of demand across the province.

"Just last week, there was six-hour lineups at the drive-thrus in Saskatoon and in Regina. Just over the Easter weekend, there was huge lineups," he said.

Jan Hanson took this photo of the Evraz Place AstraZeneca drive-thru lineup area in Regina on Tuesday morning.
Jan Hanson took this photo of the Evraz Place AstraZeneca drive-thru lineup area in Regina on Tuesday morning. (Jan Hanson/Twitter)

Merriman said it's possible that all willing and eligible people who are 55 and older and don't have a booked appointment have already been through the Regina drive-thru.

"We want to see what the uptake is going to be like in Saskatoon," Merriman said of the drive-thru clinic that opened there earlier this week. "Last I heard, it was about an hour wait, which is a good amount of time that encourages people that it's not going to take all day.

"We have to see how long that's going to [last] and where Saskatoons's pulling from? Is it pulling [people] from other areas of the province?"

Merriman also noted that Regina has had two drive-thrus and that the province has seen some "great numbers" go through the city's clinics.

"I don't think that there's a vaccine hesitancy out there," he said.