Although the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have arrived, the province is a long way from a return to normal.
Saskatchewan’s ICUs are full or close to it, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is still figuring out how to best vaccinate the province and, a SHA doctor said, long-term care home residents will likely need to wait for the Moderna vaccine to be approved.
Speaking during a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Tania Diener, an SHA medical health officer in Regina, stressed that Saskatchewan residents should still follow public health guidelines because we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.
“This is the time for all of us to come together and fight this virus with the other tools that we have at the moment,” she said.
Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, the first person in Saskatchewan to be vaccinated and department lead of critical care in Regina, warned that intensive care units in Saskatoon “have been well over capacity” to the point where referrals from northern treatment centres are being referred to Regina, which is also full.
“We are overflowed as well, in our ICU. I know that Prince Albert ICU is very full,” he said, adding other care units in the province are close to being full.
Diener also stressed the immunization of 1,950 health-care workers, which began Tuesday, is a pilot project designed to test the logistics and distribution of shipping doses across Saskatchewan.
She said it is the “most complex thing we’ve ever dealt with, in terms of vaccine distribution,” but added Regina SHA personnel have already started sharing what they’ve learned with the rest of the province.
She said the Health Authority is planning to vaccinate an additional 1,950 health-care workers and that she’s expecting additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive every week.
She also cautioned that SHA leadership has no date in mind for the pilot project to finish and said vaccination of the general population will only likely start in March.
She warned the vaccination of people in long-term care homes may have to wait until the Moderna vaccine is approved, because it’s easier to transport.
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, the only one Health Canada has approved so far, must be kept at a temperature of -80 C.
Diener said she didn’t know when the federal government would approve the Moderna vaccine but believed it would be soon.
When asked about Saskatchewan residents’ apparent hesitancy to get the shot, Diener said it was important to stress the vaccine is safe and effective.