Phase 2 of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan launched on Thursday, according to the provincial government.
Effective at 12 p.m. on March 18, eligibility to book online or phone in to 1-833-727-5829 expanded to those 67 years and older and those considered clinically extremely vulnerable. It also includes select congregate living settings such as group homes for persons with intellectual disabilities and emergency shelters, officials said.
“The implementation of the online and telephone appointment booking system has enabled the rapid deployment of vaccinations across the province,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a press release.
“This move into Phase 2 is ahead of the anticipated schedule but with the vaccine and the ability to move forward swiftly we do not want to delay. This achievement is great news for our residents and our province as every vaccination delivered brings us one day closer to returning to normal.”
At a press conference on Thursday, Merriman explained that the government has seen about 80 per cent of each age category booking their vaccine appointments.
“We want to keep the vaccine lines full. We want to keep the appointments full so we can get through this again as fast as we possibly can,” Merriman said.
He explained there are open appointments in the coming days which is why the government expanded the age eligibility and launched Phase 2 earlier than expected.
Merriman insisted that those in older age categories can still book appointments and he encourages them to do so.
He added that an increase in vaccine supply also helps the province move through vaccine categories faster.
Saskatchewan chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab echoed Merriman’s comments on Thursday and added that 80 per cent of each category booking vaccinations is ideal in protecting the population.
“It takes some time for everyone to make up their mind and get vaccinated. But over time, I think we do want to see a high uptake,” Shahab said.
Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone explained that letters will be sent out to individuals who fall under the clinically extremely vulnerable category.
Individuals will need those letters when booking appointments over the phone and at their appointment to verify that they are eligible to be receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our online system is strictly age-based. So if you’re not 67 or older right now, it will not allow you to book,” Livingstone said.
SHA executive director of infrastructure management said 25,000 individuals have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable.
With Phase 2 starting, officials said vaccinations and eligibility for individuals identified in Phase 1 will continue until completed. They added that this includes completing all first and second doses for long-term care and personal care home residents and staff.
The government also announced special vaccination leave comes into force on Thursday to allow for paid time off from work for an employee to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
The new regulation establishes the following during the pandemic:
- Workers are entitled to three consecutive hours’ leave during work hours to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
- Workers are entitled to over three consecutive hours if the employer determines the circumstances warrant a longer break from work.
- Workers do not lose any pay or other benefits while receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
“The amendment today ensures workers also have paid time off during the work hours to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan said in a press release.
-With files from Kelly Skjerven