Saskatchewan's health minister says the province is not considering further incentivizing people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, despite recent numbers showing a slowdown in first-dose vaccinations in some age groups.
"We're not looking at any incentive programs right now," Paul Merriman said at Saskatchewan's latest COVID-19 news conference on Tuesday.
Merriman's comments came on the heels of Manitoba announcing that it will no longer require fully-vaccinated travelers to self-isolate upon return.
The remarks also came a day after the Saskatchewan NDP called on the province to launch a $25,000 lottery for residents who are fully vaccinated.
Merriman said that while he is aware of other jurisdictions' incentive plans, "we haven't seen anything that would really increase [vaccine takeup]."
He defended Saskatchewan's progress on first-dose vaccinations as "extremely good," but later in the same news conference said uptake has slowed "a little bit" lately.
According to the data released daily by the Ministry of Health, second-dose vaccinations among eligible people aged 60 and up have increased substantially in the last two weeks.
First-dose takeup among people in the two lowest age brackets has also seen double-digit percentage point increases.
But first-dose vaccinations among people in their 30s and 40s increased by only five and four percentage points, respectively.
Here are the full numbers:
Merriman said he does not believe vaccine hesitancy is at work.
"I just think it's more summer time, people are not looking at getting vaccinated," Merriman said. "There are people are saying, 'Well, we'll get it done next week or the week after.'"
Merriman and the province's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said people should get vaccinated as soon as they're eligible, pointing out that people are legally entitled to three hours from work to do so.
All people in their 30s and 40s have been eligible for a first dose since April 30 and May 10, respectively.
Merriman also noted that Saskatchewan's three-step reopening planning, which is currently in its first phase, hinges on first-dose vaccination targets.
As of Tuesday, 68 per cent of Saskatchewan residents aged 18 and over had received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine — two percentage points shy of the threshold for the province to set a date for the third phase of reopening, which would see most remaining public health restrictions lifted.
"We need you to get it and get it done immediately so we can start moving forward in our rollout plan," Merriman said.
On Monday, in response to the Saskatchewan NDP lottery proposal, Merriman said in a statement that protecting other people from COVID-19 should be incentive enough for getting vaccinated.
Upcoming guidance for fully-vaccinated people
As of Tuesday, 143,504 Saskatchewan residents — 12 per cent of the province's population — had been fully vaccinated.
Merriman was asked Tuesday about what fully vaccinated people should do in the event that they become a close contact of someone infected with COVID-19.
He said his ministry would be coming out either later this week or early next week with an update on that topic.
"It's something that we're currently looking at and we're hoping to make an announcement in the near future," Merriman said.
"If that's an incentive for people to get out and get vaccinated, then that's great."