REGINA — Saskatchewan's health minister says the province is moving as quickly as possible to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations even as thousands of shots still sit in freezers.
Figures provided by health officials show the province received 13,675 vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The Ministry of Health reports just over 4,500 shots have been given to date.
Almost all of them have gone into the arms of doctors and nurses in Regina and Saskatoon. Some are now, 21 days later, beginning to receive their second dose of Pfizer's vaccine.
Doses also went to staff at a couple of long-term care homes in Regina.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said the province held back half of Pfizer's initial shipment, as per the drug company's recommendation, but it will not do that as more vaccine arrives.
He said Ottawa has told the province to expect to receive roughly 6,800 doses of Pfizer vaccine per week in the last three weeks of January, plus another shipment from Moderna.
"This is just simply not near enough," Merriman said during a briefing Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed frustration Tuesday with the pace of vaccinations. It's to be discussed when he and the premiers hold their weekly call on Thursday.
Saskatchewan health officials say that of the 4,900 doses of Moderna's vaccine received on Dec. 28, 48 shots have been administered, all in the far north.
"There's a very big difference of getting the vaccine in somebody's arm, and getting it in somebody's arm in a remote community that meets our first sequence of priorities," said Merriman.
The shots are being used to immunize people living and working in long-term care homes, as well as residents who are 80 and older, plus critical health-care workers, he said.
There are logistical challenges in shipping the vaccine to remote areas and in ensuring it's stored at the required temperature of -20 C, he said.
"We have travelling that (people) have to do. We have our clinics up there and ready to go, so it is going to go slower in the north."
And people have to want to get the shot, Merriman added.
He said another 3,900 doses of Pfizer's vaccine had arrived in Prince Albert as of Wednesday and would also be used to immunize long-term care residents and health-care workers.
Saskatchewan vaccinated its first long-term care resident on Tuesday.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, said given the novel coronavirus's risk to the elderly, immunizing all long-term care staff and residents over January and February "is a challenge that has to be met."
“Given all these constraints of supply, the complexities of distribution, while that is the reality — it is a race against time."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2021
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press