Phase 2 of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout fails to protect police and teachers, who have no choice but to interact with the public, union representatives say.
The second immunization phase is based on age, starting with people in their 60s.
Casey Ward, Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers president, said front-line police officers should be prioritized. They’re regularly exposed to COVID-positive people while executing public health orders, he said.
“The Saskatchewan Health Authority is sending us out to these calls to investigate mass gatherings and these detention orders, but we feel that we’re not properly equipped because we don’t have the vaccine,” Ward told Global News.
Age is the top risk factor for COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations, government officials said Tuesday.
Police often have to search, handcuff and transport people who’ve been infected, he said. Personal protective equipment provides some safety, but he said it can come loose during physical altercations.
Officers who’ve been exposed have to quarantine for two weeks.
“Police work… in confined places, so we’ve had shifts decimated with just contact tracing,” he said.
“Just gives us the tools, so we can keep on working and be healthy.”
Ward said he isn’t calling for all officers to get the vaccine right away — just those on the front lines, who are typically junior employees.
In a post on Twitter, Saskatoon police chief Troy Cooper said he will not get vaccinated before front-line staff.
“I cannot accept an opportunity to be vaccinated based on my age, while our front-line members put themselves at risk and suffer from stress that goes along (with) that,” the tweet says.
Regina police chief Evan Bray also called on the government to prioritize police.
“We need our front line personnel to be included as a priority in the vaccination process to ensure we can continue to answer the challenges we face in our community,” Bray wrote on Twitter.
Saskatchewan school staff are also disappointed in the new vaccine plan.
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Patrick Maze said teachers work in full classrooms, and some have been infected by students.
“We’ve been told that social distancing is imperative, and yet not for classrooms,” Maze said in an interview Wednesday.
“It seems like (the government is) taking chances with teachers’ and school employees’ health.”
There are more than 13,000 teachers in Saskatchewan, but Maze said some are more vulnerable than others.
Priority could be given to school staff in larger centres, he said, where outbreaks a more common.
“This year is taking its toll on our membership,” Maze said.
“They’ve done a great job to this point, but really, it still isn’t sustainable.”
While the province is targeting April for the start of Phase 2, health officials said it will depend on vaccine supplies.
In addition to age-based targets, Phase 2 also includes people at group homes for people with intellectual disabilities and shelters.
So far, Saskatchewan has immunized 12 per cent of the people identified in Phase 1.