Health care workers in Regina providing direct care to COVID-19 patients will be the first people in Saskatchewan to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The province said Wednesday it expects vaccines for approximately 1,950 people to arrive by Dec. 15 and has developed a delivery plan.
Premier Scott Moe said delivery may start sooner than expected after Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday morning.
“Vaccines are the finish line in this very long fight against the COVID-19 virus,” Moe said.
“This is how life will get back to normal once we have delivered a safe and effective vaccine to a significant portion of Saskatchewan’s population.”
The initial pilot program for the Pfizer vaccine will target health-care workers in ICUs, emergency departments and COVID units at Regina General and Pasqua hospitals and staff at testing and assessment centres, officials said.
They will receive their second dose 21 days after being administered their first dose.
Once the pilot program is complete, Health Minister Paul Merriman said they will move to Phase 1 of the vaccination program.
“Residents of this province can rest assured that our government will dedicate all the resources needed to provide them with the vaccine,” Merriman said.
“We are putting in place the human and financial resources to successfully distribute vaccines and get Saskatchewan residents immunized against COVID-19.”
Phase 1 is expected to start by the end of December and health officials said it will focus on immunizing priority populations who are at a higher risk of exposure to the virus or more at risk of serious illness.
Those include health-care workers, elderly residents in care homes, seniors over 80 and residents in northern remote communities.
The government anticipates it will receive 202,052 doses of the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021.
Officials said they expect to receive 10,725 doses weekly of the Pfizer vaccine along with weekly allocations of the Moderna vaccine, the details of which are still being finalized.
Merriman said delivery of the vaccine across the province will be a “massive undertaking.”
“The good news is Saskatchewan has a very strong record when it comes to immunization, both in terms of wide-scale delivery of vaccines and in terms of uptake from Saskatchewan people,” he said.
“Our government is prepared to dedicate all necessary resources to this massive effort — financial resources, human resources, logistics, whatever is needed to get the vaccine delivered swiftly.”
Widespread access to the vaccine is expected during the second phase of the delivery plan when it is scheduled to start in April 2021.
During this phase, distribution will occur throughout the province at public health clinics and other vaccination delivery sites.
“Once mass immunization has occurred, we will all be able to get closer to our normal routines,” said the province’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.
“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.”
The province said it is prioritizing vaccination for some Indigenous communities, particularly for people aged 50 and older in the far north.
First Nations leaders have called for early access to the vaccine, due to risk factors like overcrowding and limited health-care services.
Health officials said the Pfizer vaccine is not ideal for use in remote locations because it has to be stored at -70 C. The Moderna vaccine would be easier to transport, since it can be stored at -20 C.
“Indigenous populations are a high priority for vaccination,” Shahab said.
“Consistent with many other provinces, the initial emphasis will be as vaccine supplies allow, especially vaccines that are -20 — (like) the Moderna vaccine.”
The pilot project taking effect next week is a “good place to start,” according to Dr. Cory Neudorf, a public health physician and University of Saskatchewan (USask) health and epidemiology professor. However, he said it would have been ideal to see some vulnerable people included in the first round of vaccinations.
“You could argue there are some high-risk patients that don’t have COVID yet that are in that hospital that could potentially be part of that pilot as well,” Neudorf said.
The pilot also can’t assess the Moderna vaccine and how well health officials store and transport it to remote locations outside the hospital setting.
“So there will be a need for further testing of those plans,” Neudorf said.
Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, another USask epidemiologist, also welcomed Wednesday’s announcement. Yet he wanted to know how health-care workers were chosen for the pilot — whether they were volunteers, randomly selected or represent a cross-section of medical fields.
He also wants to know whether there are specific metrics and goals around shipping, storage and whether any doses will be wasted in the process.
“The fact that we are actually doing some piloting and testing of deployment of this vaccine, I see as real positive news,” Muhajarine said.
Government officials said they continue to work with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which negotiates and procures vaccines directly with manufacturers on behalf of provinces and territories.
They added that plans are in progress around the safe storage of the vaccine and contingency planning.
While Moe said getting the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory, he urged people to roll up their sleeves.
“Even if you aren’t worried about contracting the virus yourself, do it for those around you. Do it for our seniors, our parents and our grandparents who are the most vulnerable to very serious outcomes from COVID-19,” he said.
“It is the Saskatchewan way and it’s how we will protect those that are around us, and it’s how we will ultimately get our life back to normal.”View link »