Saskatchewan releases plan for mass vaccination campaign to start in spring

·3 min read

REGINA — Saskatchewan's health minister says the province has a plan for how people will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and who will be among the first in line.

Paul Merriman says one detail, however, is still missing from the mass vaccination campaign: timelines.

"The 'when' is a little bit out of our hands right now — well, it's not a little bit, it's completely out of our hands," he said during a briefing Tuesday.

Merriman said the province will use age to decide when members of the general public will get their shots against COVID-19 once it finishes inoculating the most vulnerable residents under the first phase of its immunization schedule.

He said he hopes the mass vaccination campaign begins in April. The focus will be on inoculating people with intellectual disabilities living in group homes and those in emergency shelters, as well as people with certain cancers and other medical conditions that make them vulnerable.

At the same time, officials plan for other people to get vaccinated, starting with those aged 60 to 69 and then moving into the younger generations by age decade.

Merriman said age was chosen as the deciding factor for sequencing because it's the main risk factor for severe illness from COVID-19, and it's also the fastest way to get vaccines into people's arms.

"I've heard from all groups that are lobbying to be prioritized within the sequence and they're all valid points," he said.

"What we're looking at right now is getting a large quantity of vaccines in a short amount of time, so the best way to distribute that and get it across our province as fast as possible and as safe as possible is to look at age categories."

Residents 70 and older are eligible to be vaccinated under the current phase of the province's vaccine rollout, and for adults living in remote northern communities, the age limit drops to 50.

Besides these two groups, shots are also presently reserved for critical health-care workers and seniors living in long-term care.

To date, the province has administered around 43,000 vaccine doses of the required 380,000 shots to immunize the most vulnerable.

Merriman said he's relying on Ottawa's commitment that the vaccine supply will improve to achieve the province's goal of starting its mass vaccination campaign in April, but admitted it could be pushed back to June.

"I've heard from a lot of people, they want to know what's going on, what is it going to look like, how are we going to be informed and when can we get in," he said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says residents will be able to access their shots through more than 200 immunization and drive-thru clinics that will set up around the province.

It will also rely on community pharmacies.

Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said residents will also receive a paper card to say they have been inoculated against COVID-19.

"I don't think we can talk about vaccination enough and prepare people for what's coming."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2020

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press