Earlier this week, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer offered a rare glimpse into the province's detailed COVID-19 vaccine coverage data.
The Ministry of Health does release up-to-date information on how many people have been vaccinated with one or two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, but that daily breakdown doesn't drill down into individual communities, instead grouping them together into 13 broad regions: far northeast, central west, southeast and so on.
"The necessity for vaccination information [availability] is under continual review," the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. "Any further, granular detail will be posted through the dashboard."
On Tuesday, chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab dipped into some of that granular detail by giving "a shoutout" to the central east Saskatchewan city of Melville. He said 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the city's residents are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Shahab didn't specify whether he meant those people were fully vaccinated or simply had one dose, but either way, the upper end of that range is higher than Tuesday's reported single-dose and two-dose coverage percentages for the entire central east region (83 per cent and 78 per cent, respectively).
Shahab's disclosure was a rare example of a Saskatchewan official offering detailed insight into one particular community's collective efforts to protect itself against COVID-19 through vaccines.
Shahab appeared to share the Melville data to illustrate that even within "pockets of communities" that have lower vaccine uptake, "some communities have done really well."
"Some communities, not so well," Shahab added.
"Obviously, many communities have been deeply impacted in this fourth wave, especially given the low vaccination rates. Everyone seems to know someone who was hospitalized or died, and that's very unfortunate. But that has increased interest in getting vaccinated."
Shahab shared an updated vaccine coverage map on Thursday.
Regina leads regions
Beyond Melville, Shahab didn't single any area or community out.
But the daily breakdown does offer some idea, at least regionally, of what areas of Saskatchewan are lagging when it comes to getting their shots, as well as what age groups are holding out.
Here's how the 13 regions rank overall in terms of the proportion of their eligible residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19:
1. Regina: 82 per cent.
2 (tied). Northeast: 80 per cent.
2. (tied) Saskatoon: 80 per cent.
4. South central: 79 per cent.
5. Central east: 78 per cent.
6. North central: 77 per cent.
7 (tied). Central west: 76 per cent.
7 (tied). Northwest: 76 per cent.
9. Southeast: 74 per cent.
10. Southwest: 73 per cent.
11 (tied). Far north central: 68 per cent.
11 (tied). Far northeast: 68 per cent.
13. Far northwest: 61 per cent.
Provincial total: 81 per cent.
Each region's double-dose vaccine coverage is also broken down into the eight age groups reported by the ministry. Here's where the provincial totals for each age group stood as of Tuesday.
1. 80+: 92 per cent.
2. 70-79: 90 per cent.
3. 60-69: 89 per cent.
4. 50-59: 83 per cent.
5. 40-49: 79 per cent.
6. 12-17: 75 per cent.
7. (tied). 18-29: 74 per cent.
7. (tied). 30-39: 74 per cent.
Regionally, in all but one age group (people aged 80 and over), the far northwest had the lowest proportion of fully-vaccinated people in each age group. The far north central ranked bottom in the 80-and-over category, with only 68 per cent of its eldest seniors fully vaccinated.
The regions with the top five active case counts as of Tuesday were Saskatoon and Regina (tied for first with 203 active cases each), followed by the central east (164), southeast (142) and north central (132). All other regions' active caseloads numbered in the single digits.
Among that top five, some trends stood out in terms of full vaccine coverage among certain age groups.
The southeast was the only region where double-dose coverage in the four youngest age groups was still only in the 60 per cent to 69 per cent range.
The north central and central east were tied for the lowest double-dose coverage among 12 to 17 year olds (68 per cent), compared to 84 per cent in Regina and 80 per cent in Saskatoon.
The southeast had the lowest double-dose coverage among people aged 18 to 29 and 30 to 39, at 67 per cent and 65 per cent, respectively.
What more can be done?
Shahab said it's critical to understand why vaccine uptake remains low in some communities.
"It may be more than just individual hesitancy," Shahab said. "We have to understand other community level issues and how they can be addressed."
In a recently published study from researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, it was found that factors such as a lower education level and financial instability were linked to an increased likelihood of vaccine refusal and hesitancy.
The study gathered 9,252 responses from May 2020 to April 2021 from adult Saskatchewan residents who were part of an online community panel or who had volunteered.
"Indigenous people, who have a complicated history with inoculations and the health care system, were also found to be less likely and willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19," according to a summary of the findings.
"They also tend to be less trusting of the healthcare system and government initiatives due to generations of traumatic experiences with the medical system."
Shahab cautioned that the study, while important, was conducted this past summer and vaccine uptake has improved since then.
Officials have talked in the past about the importance of doctors touting the benefits of vaccines. They've also repeatedly mentioned door-to-door vaccine awareness campaigns.
Shahab was asked Tuesday what new steps are being taken to increase vaccinations in low-coverage areas.
"Certainly I will work with my colleagues to bring some further success stories and some further initiatives to this table," he said.
Making vaccines easily accessible is also key, said Derek Miller, the emergency operations lead for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
Earlier this week, the province announced that the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine would be offered in Saskatchewan for the first time starting on Wednesday.
"As we reached a high vaccine uptake, we did hear from a few people that they would prefer getting [that] vaccine," Shahab explained. "That is why Saskatchewan opted to obtain limited supplies of that."