Saskatchewan needs to vaccinate much faster to reach its mid-May goal of a needle in every adult's arm

·4 min read
Saskatchewan has said they hope to have everyone vaccinated by mid-May. (Government of Saskatchewan - image credit)
Saskatchewan has said they hope to have everyone vaccinated by mid-May. (Government of Saskatchewan - image credit)

Saskatchewan has set an ambitious timeline for getting its adult population vaccinated.

On Wednesday, the province's chief medical health officer predicted that by mid-May all willing and able residents in the province aged 18 and older could have access to their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

But an analysis by CBC News shows the province will have to substantially speed up its efforts if it wants a chance of meeting its goal and avoiding a high-profile misstep for a government that has touted vaccines as the only way out of the pandemic.

Last week the province averaged 9,681 vaccine doses per day. To get a dose in every adult's arm, Saskatchewan would need to more than double that.

That goal may be already out of reach.

Population challenges

As of July 2020, StatsCanada estimated that there were 905,623 adults in the province.

As of Sunday, 240,931 adults in Saskatchewan had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That would leave about 664,692 adults yet to be vaccinated.

The province has averaged 5,508 jabs a day since March 5.

Even with the rate increasing to more than 8,000 per day during the week of March 29 to April 4, it is still nowhere near the pace needed to meet its rapidly approaching target.

As of Monday, there are only 33 days until May 15. To vaccinate every adult in that period, the province will need to complete more than 20,000 jabs a day.

So far, the most people Saskatchewan has vaccinated in one day is 13,170, on April 11.

Every day the government doesn't reach the necessary daily average, it means more must be vaccinated in the days to come.

How many will be vaccinated?

Is the province capable of scaling up its vaccination efforts? It's not clear.

The Saskatchewan government would not provide answers to any of the questions CBC News asked for this story.

Instead, all inquiries were directed to a news conference on vaccines from April 7. None of the questions were addressed in that news conference.

Meeting the goal will, paradoxically, be helped by vaccine hesitancy.

It's very unlikely that every person in the province will be willing to get vaccinated. Saskatchewan would not provide any information on how many people it has predicted will oppose vaccinations.

Health Minister Paul Merriman has insisted that everyone get inoculated.

"That's the very best way to protect yourself and those around you and that is the way to the end of this pandemic. In fact, it's the only way to the end of this pandemic," said Merriman at a provincial update on Wednesday.

According to the World Health Organization, the percentage of a population that needs to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity varies with each disease.

Health Canada's chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma previously told the House of Commons health committee in February that vaccination rates will likely need to be high in order to counter the emergence of COVID-19 variants.

"With the emergence of variants and because they are more transmissible, I think a lot of people are adjusting those numbers up toward more like 85 per cent, or even potentially 90 per cent, coverage to achieve herd immunity," she said.

"Certainly it's a moving target, because, as we know, the virus and its transmissibility and how contagious it is is changing."

Even if the province is hoping to inoculate 85 per cent of the adult population, it must ramp up efforts on an extraordinary scale.

Rapid vaccinations, but high case counts

On a per capita basis, Saskatchewan ranks highly among the provinces in two significant categories.

It is the top province in Canada for vaccinations per capita. As of Monday, the province had vaccinated 23,947 per 100,000 people in the province.

"We are leading the country. We are getting as many shots into people as soon as we possibly can, and that's the way through this," Merriman told media on Thursday.

But Saskatchewan is also among the top provinces in known COVID-19 cases per capita — third in both active and total cases per capita.

Premier Scott Moe has resisted calls to implement stricter province-wide COVID-19 restrictions. The province is in a race to vaccinate as quickly as possible.

And the clock on the province's self-imposed deadline is ticking.