Wednesday December 9th Premier Scott Moe, Health Minister Paul Merriman and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab released Saskatchewan’s Vaccine Delivery Plan. “Residents of this province can rest assured that our government will dedicate all the resources needed to provide them with the vaccine,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said. “We are putting in place the human and financial resources to successfully distribute vaccines and get Saskatchewan residents immunized against COVID-19.”
Prime Minister Trudeau announced Tuesday that 249,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine developed and manufactured by Pfizer will be shipped to Canada as soon as Health Canada gives its approval. Premier Moe revealed at the press conference Wednesday morning that Health Canada had just given its approval to the Pfizer vaccine. Due to the storage necessities of this vaccine, (it needs to be stored at -70 C) it is unclear whether it can be moved from the site where it will be delivered which has the ultra-cold freezers, to another site to vaccinate those in long-term care facilities. On that note, Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam also added on Tuesday that the first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine are likely to be given only to people who can physically be at one of the 14 delivery sites. Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have higher populations and will have two sites, while the rest of the provinces will have one each, but the Yukon, Northwest and Nunavut Territories do not have the necessary freezers to allow for a distribution site. Further conversations with the manufacturer will be carried out over the next couple of weeks regarding safe handling and storage of the vaccine. Already 25 portable ultra-low freezers have been ordered to facilitate the transportation of the Pfizer vaccine as well as regular freezers for the transportation of the Moderna vaccine once it achieves Health Canada approval.
Saskatchewan will receive a prorated amount of the vaccine based on a per capita basis, which of this very first shipment will amount to enough doses for approximately 1950 people. The pilot will see the vaccine administered at Regina General Hospital and delivered to health care workers providing direct care to COVID-19 patients. The first recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine will be health care workers in ICUs, Emergency Departments and Covid Units at Regina General and Pasqua Hospitals and staff at testing and assessment centres. Pfizer will continue to make weekly shipments of roughly 10,000 doses. Following the Pilot, Phase 1 of the immunization program will begin in late December and will focus on those targeted by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), specifically residents of long-term care and personal care homes and staff, health care workers across the province, individuals 80 years of age and older, and people over the age of 50 in remote communities. Health Canada noted that insufficient testing had been done on the vaccine amongst children and youth under the age of 16 years and for that reason at this time, the Pfizer vaccine is not approved for administration to those under 16.
For people concerned about potential reactions to the vaccine, the Federal government announced on Thursday December 10th the creation of a program to support any individual who may develop a serious side-effect after receiving the vaccine. For any vaccine there are always those individuals who have a chance of developing a serious adverse reaction to it, however the stated likelihood of this happening is less than one in a million. The program announced by the federal government is a no-fault compensation program that is based on a program the province of Quebec has had in place for more than 30 years, but is said to have expanded on that program. All vaccines approved for use in Canada by Health Canada, are included in this program. All other G7 countries have programs of this sort and Prime Minister Trudeau stated the creation of the program was merely to bring Canada in line with other countries of similar standing in the world.
Phase 2 of a vaccine rollout is anticipated to begin in April 2021 but could of course begin earlier if the shipments of vaccine allow. Distribution during this phase will be carried out through public health clinics and other vaccination delivery sites such as pharmacies. The first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine left the lab in Puurs, Belgium on December 11th for the first leg of its journey to Canada. From Belgium the vaccine travelled to Cologne, Germany for the first scheduled stop-over. The next leg of the journey was from Germany to Lexington, Kentucky where the United Parcel Service (UPS) took over its travel. Once in Canada, Fed Ex took responsibility for its delivery to the fourteen pilot sites. Major General Dany Fortin has been in charge of working out the logistics of the delivery. When asked by CBC News why the Prime Minister had turned to the military to take the lead in the distribution of the vaccine, Fortin replied that the military “bring logistics expertise” and that managing crises and adapting rapidly is second nature to them. He went on to state quite clearly that this is NOT a military exercise, they are assisting the Public Health Agency in the nationwide initiative while working to ensure the safety and security of the vaccine amidst threats of theft and of ‘hacking’ the systems used to monitor the distribution. Maj-Gen. Fortin assured that they are working closely with and relying heavily on local law enforcement agencies and private security companies to address potential threats. Their focus, he said, was on delivering the vaccine as fast and as safely as possible by striking that right balance between visible security and inconspicuously blending in.
It is important to remember that the arrival of the vaccine is not a magic wand that will result in the immediate relaxation of all public health restrictions. Dr. Shahab cautioned last Wednesday that people will need to continue to follow the measures in place in all likelihood, until late summer or early fall. “Once mass immunization has occurred, we will all be able to get closer to our normal routines,” Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said. “But in the meantime, everyone must continue following the basic advice – frequent hand-washing, physical distancing, masking and staying home if you have symptoms, and closely following public health orders.” Premier Moe has spoken out against the anti-mask proponents who are organizing rallies in defiance of standing Public Health orders and the Sask Party government even went so far as to introduce a bill to significantly raise the maximum amount of fines for those in violation of the existing orders. However, the bill was introduced at the end of the fall sitting and cannot be put into effect until after the Legislature resumes in the spring. As a deterrent, NDP leader Ryan Meili said, it’s about as effective as wearing a mask on one’s chin. Even though the maximum fines proposed would be a real deterrent, by the time the bill could be passed, case numbers could be on the decline and restrictions could have already been lifted, and so this bill will do nothing to prevent more rallies like those seen in Saskatoon and Regina.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder