The president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association says there's an urgent need for a provincewide vaccine passport system with no exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
"That is essentially what would help us get to the goal of having more people vaccinated way quicker. That would save lives. That would save a lot of pressure on the health system as well," said Melfort family physician Dr. Eben Strydom.
More than 100 Saskatchewan hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients. Most of them are not fully vaccinated.
Strydom, elected SMA president in May, spoke with CBC reporter Jason Warick about the province's surging case numbers, the overburdened health care system and the urgent need for provincial leadership.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CBC: B.C., Manitoba and Quebec have announced plans for provincewide vaccine passports for large indoor events or other activities. Ontario and other jurisdictions may soon follow. This week, Premier Scott Moe rejected the idea. Would a provincial vaccine mandate be a good idea at this point?
Strydom: We think that would be very helpful. They have their reasons for trying not to do it, I suppose. But that is essentially what would help us get to the goal of having more people vaccinated way quicker. That would save lives. That would save a lot of pressure on the health system as well.
Some provinces are allowing vaccination exemptions for medical and religious reasons. B.C. says there will be no exemptions. Are you aware of any valid medical reason to not get a COVID-19 vaccination?
I haven't seen any. I even spoke to allergists and we aren't seeing it. Allergies are extremely rare, super rare, but that can be managed. We can manage this for everyone. That's why B.C. says no exemptions.
Have patients been demanding a medical exemption from doctors?
I haven't seen it so far, but I expect anything nowadays. I think people will now start to try it.
Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith leaders have expressed support for COVID-19 vaccination. Are you aware of any valid religious exemptions?
I'm not aware of any. Public health is extremely important. This is public health. Vaccine uptake is not as quick as it needs to be. Everybody needs to do their part.
What message would you have for unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated eligible residents?
We're all in this together. We are doing this for our families, friends, colleagues and the immune-suppressed people in our communities. This is such a small price to pay to save lives, honestly. My family live in Africa. Scores there are dying because they don't have access to the (COVID) vaccine. We are so privileged here. Take responsibility for this and make the world a better place.
Do you think the Saskatchewan government's position will change?
We have this exponential explosion in cases. The only way to get this under control long-term is vaccination. We have to do other measures for sure, but on vaccination mandates, we will have no choice.