Sask. premier's office calls vaccine favouritism claims 'disappointing and false'

·4 min read
The premier's office has rejected claims of vaccine favourtism circulating online, including from a former NDP finance minister. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The premier's office has rejected claims of vaccine favourtism circulating online, including from a former NDP finance minister. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The premier's office is rejecting any claims that residents 70 and over in Scott Moe's constituency of Rosthern-Shellbrook received preferential treatment when COVID-19 vaccination clinics were announced in January.

"The premier has not played a role in determining the location of vaccine clinics. Rumours to this extent perpetuated by partisans on Twitter are disappointing and false," said Moe's press secretary Julie Leggott.

This week, the province transitioned to online and phone-in booking for eligible seniors 80 and over.

In January, the government announced clinics for people 70 and over in several communities in the province's north central zone, including the area represented by Moe.

Former Saskatchewan NDP Finance Minister Harry Van Mulligen posted a series of tweets calling for an inquiry into why those 70 and over in Moe's hometown were offered the vaccine before older people in other areas of Saskatchewan.

Leggott said that early on in the vaccination process, the Saskatchewan Health Authority was transparent in communicating, "clinics were being located based on priorities including targeting locations of high transmission and managing limited vaccine supply."

The first doses of vaccine for those 70 and older who are not part of a priority population were offered in a clinic setting to residents living independently in Wakaw, Cudworth and Rosthern. The announcement was made Jan. 14 and appointments were based on who called and booked first.

The next day, the SHA advertised vaccination clinics in eight communities in the north central region, including Christopher Lake, Birch Hills and Shellbrook.

A similar process was offered in Prince Albert and was advertised on Jan. 18. The province has not advertised clinics since then.

"The SHA and their front-line staff have done tremendous work in vaccinating as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and doing so based on maximizing the impact of a scarce vaccine supply," Leggott said.

Ministry says north central zone chosen due to high cases at the time

Jennifer Graham, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said the north central zone of the province was prioritized for clinics "because at that time (late December and early January) it had the highest per capita number of cases in the province."

"The Phase 1 vaccine clinics targeted those regions of the province with the highest attack rates with the limited vaccine that we have had available to date," Graham said.

"This is the reason for all first Moderna doses going to the north, and including residents 50-plus, and distribution to clinics through the northern and central zones before those further south, where the case numbers and transmission rates were much lower."

In November, the north central 1 subzone had the highest per capita rates of COVID-19, with 400 cases per 100,000 people.

On Jan. 1, Saskatoon had 574 active cases, Regina had 479 and North Central had 461.

On March 1, Saskatoon had 292 cases, Regina had 492 and North Central had 66.

On Jan. 1 the north central region narrowly trailed Regina in active cases. The ministry of health says transmission rates in that region drove the decision to offer clinics to that region in mid January.
On Jan. 1 the north central region narrowly trailed Regina in active cases. The ministry of health says transmission rates in that region drove the decision to offer clinics to that region in mid January.(Government of Saskatchewan)

The ministry said Phase 1 vaccinations of staff and residents in long-term and personal care facilities continue with second doses.

"We estimate that 40 per cent of our 80-plus population has received a first dose and 14 per cent of the 70 to 79 population has received their first shot to date."

SHA explains phone booking issue

On Feb. 25, the SHA announced it would transition from a vaccination booking system where it contacted eligible residents to a self-booking system, which opened March 11.

It was a change that some Saskatchewan seniors were calling for.

The SHA said Friday that while it was testing out its new 1-833-SASK-VAX vaccination booking system, some who were eligible and contacted by staff shared the number with others.

"In some cases, we know that individuals who were provided a call-back number shared that number with other individuals. If those individuals were in the Phase 1 priority group (70-plus plus years of age), they would have been scheduled to get the vaccine if appointments were available when they called the call-back number," the SHA said in a statement on Friday.