Saskatchewan leaves teachers, other front-line workers off its vaccine priority list

·4 min read
Teachers in Saskatchewan are not included in the priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the province giving priority to essential workers including police and firefighters.  (weedezign/Shutterstock - image credit)
Teachers in Saskatchewan are not included in the priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the province giving priority to essential workers including police and firefighters. (weedezign/Shutterstock - image credit)

Jeremy Gaboury just wants his students back in the classroom.

And without staff getting vaccinated against COVID-19, the Regina teacher says, the return to in-class learning could get delayed.

"I want these students filling the classrooms again," the teacher at Campbell Collegiate said. "And I want my kids face-to-face learning with teachers."

Teachers are among essential workers in Saskatchewan who have been excluded from the province's vaccine priority list. Others missing from the list include childcare workers, correctional officers and retail clerks who are often in large public crowds.

The drive-thru COVID-19 immunization clinic in Regina. Over the weekend, some Regina police officers received their shot.
The drive-thru COVID-19 immunization clinic in Regina. Over the weekend, some Regina police officers received their shot. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Frontline workers who did make the list include police officers, firefighters and remaining health-care workers.

Grocery store staff will also receive priority vaccination, but only if their store includes a pharmacy.

"I have members asking to transfer to grocery stores where there are pharmacies," said Lucy Lucy Figueiredo, union representative for United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1400.

"If we're only limiting it to stores that have pharmacies, we're not really addressing the issue of both the health and safety of members themselves and workers, but the larger exposure to members of the general public."

Not all grocery store clerks will qualify for priority vaccination against COVID-19.
Not all grocery store clerks will qualify for priority vaccination against COVID-19. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

'Groups are being shoulder-tapped secretly'

Representatives for essential workers say the province's vaccination plan sows confusion and doesn't acknowledge all of those on the front lines.

"It'd be nice to have some transparency around the process" said Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation. "Seems to me groups are being shoulder-tapped secretly, emails are being sent, and we're finding about it in unusual channels."

Maze, 51, learned police officers were getting vaccinated while he was in the Regina drive-thru clinic to get a COVID-19 vaccine injection.

"I saw signs saying please identify yourself if you're Corrections or Regina police," Maze said. "And to find out, actually the sign was an error, corrections aren't getting vaccinated. And that bodes the question why not? And why aren't teachers on that list as well."

Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, says the government needs to be more transparent about its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, including which frontline workers are eligible for their shot.
Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, says the government needs to be more transparent about its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, including which frontline workers are eligible for their shot. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

National guidelines

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that all essential workers get priority access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Health Minister Paul Merriman told reporters on Monday the province doesn't have the capacity to follow all of NACI's guidelines.

"I don't have enough vaccines to follow it to a T. I really don't. If I had more vaccines I certainly could," Merriman said.

The minister said on Monday the province has a two-day supply of vaccines, but has 14 days of booked appointments.

"I've got 12 days I'm waiting for the shipment to arrive, and move those out as quick as possible," Merriman said.

Under Stage 2, NACI recommends vaccinating remaining health care workers, residents of congregate settings and essential workers.
Under Stage 2, NACI recommends vaccinating remaining health care workers, residents of congregate settings and essential workers.(CBC)

NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili says the number of vaccines doesn't determine whether you follow NACI's guidelines.

"That's a choice — he's choosing not to follow the guidelines," Meili said. "What Mr. Merriman keeps failing to understand, or at the very least follow, is that when you vaccinate the people at higher risk, that decreases the amount of virus more effectively in the community."

Nearly 300 Saskatchewan doctors have penned a letter to Merriman and Premier Scott Moe requesting to vaccinate all frontline workers first.

Most COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring in settings where people can't work from home.

Saskatchewan continues to vaccinate the general public based on age, but Merriman says within five weeks everyone who wants a shot will get it.

In the meantime, essential workers such as Regina teacher Tracy MacDonald will have to wait until their age group gets called.

"I feel like this government doesn't really value education," MacDonald said. "It doesn't make them money so it's not a top priority, and I think that's really sad. It's sad for me to say that."