Overview of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 vaccination plan

Dr. Jeffrey Betcher was the first person in Saskatchewan to be vaccinated. File / Global News

Editor’s note: This story will be updated as new information regarding vaccines in Saskatchewan is available and eligibility is expanded. 

Saskatchewan government officials first announced their COVID-19 vaccination plan at the beginning of February, since then vaccine shortages, updated guidelines and an increase in vaccine supply has led to some adjustments.

Saskatchewan is now in Phase 2 of its COVID-19 vaccination plan meaning they are starting to work their way through vaccinating the general population, ages 69 years old and under.

Read more: Saskatchewan launches Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan

Effective May 20, those aged 12 and older are eligible to book a vaccine over the phone or via the online booking system.

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The link to the online booking system can be found on the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) website. To book an appointment over the phone, eligible residents can call 1-833-SASK-VAX (1-833-727-5829).

On April 13, the Saskatchewan government updated eligibility to include a number of groups for vaccine prioritization. Officials announced that those aged 16 and 17 who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable and pregnant women are included in priority vaccination. Individuals who fall into either of those categories will receive an eligibility letter from their physician and will need to book over the phone.

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Saskatchewan’s new online COVID-19 vaccine booking system launches – Mar 12, 2021

Officials also announced that front-line health-care workers not included in Phase 1 prioritization will be allocated 13,152 first doses that are left over from priority health-care workers. In Phase 1, 40,500 health-care workers were prioritized for the vaccine. Of those, first-dose uptake has been 27,348, or 67 per cent.

Officials said all physicians are being included in priority sequencing as they may need to assist in clinical care areas and surge capacity needs. Eligible SHA health-care workers and physicians will receive notice and a letter of eligibility from either the College of Physicians and Surgeons for doctors or the SHA for other health-care staff.

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The SHA front-line health-care staff includes outpatient and community services staff nurses, pharmacists, therapy staff, mental health professionals, social workers, housekeeping, dietary and ward support staff.

Health officials will also focus on vaccinating first responders including police officers, fire fighters and public health inspectors through mobile vaccination units once current priority populations are complete. These vaccines will be dispatched to central workplace settings.

In a press release, the SHA said that targeted vaccination of first responders will occur once congregate living setting vaccinations are complete.

Government officials said that once residents become eligible they will remain eligible even as the government expands vaccine accessibility to other groups. That means if they don’t get the vaccine right away, they won’t miss their chance.

On April 20, an SHA press release stated that additional front-line workers would be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine once age eligibility drops to 40, which is slated to happen on the morning of April 30.

Another press release sent on April 29 said effective April 30 at 8 a.m. eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine would be extended to police officers, firefighters, volunteer firefighters, correctional staff, border security officers, public health inspectors, teachers and educational staff working with students, daycare staff at facilities attached to schools, and front-line healthcare workers with direct patient contact employed by the SHA or private employers, including dentists, chiropractors and optometrists.

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“If you’re in Phase 1 and for some reason you haven’t booked yet, please keep in mind that once you are eligible, you are always eligible,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said at a March 18 press conference.

Read more: Creating a safe space for Indigenous peoples to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Regina

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Saskatchewan launches Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan – Mar 19, 2021

A list of clinically extremely vulnerable conditions can be found on a designated section on the SHA website. The SHA has identified about 25,000 Saskatchewan residents in this category.

Livingstone explained that clinically extremely vulnerable individuals will need to book their appointments over the phone as the online booking system is strictly age-based and will not allow those under the eligible age to book an appointment.

Read more: Worship service restrictions remain in place for Regina and area

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Saskatchewan launched Phase 2 of their vaccination plan earlier than anticipated as they saw about 80 per cent uptake in each age category booking immunization appointments. At a press conference on Thursday, Minister of Health Paul Merriman explained that there were open appointments which is why the government expanded eligibility.

“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.

Earlier in March, Premier Scott Moe said the government would be stretching out the time between first and second doses of vaccine to a maximum of four months. This is based on the recommendation of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, also known as NACI. This has allowed the government to vaccinate the majority of age groups sooner.

Global News reviewed vaccination documents and press conferences and found the following:

How many people Saskatchewan plans to vaccinate daily

The number of people vaccinated daily in Saskatchewan is dependent on vaccine supply.

Mass vaccination sites are expected to be open by April. These clinics will accommodate a maximum of 30 immunization tables. Each table will be able to deliver six to seven vaccines per hour.

An additional 19 vaccine doses will be delivered per hour at the clinic’s drive-thru site.

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A total of 230 sites will be open across Saskatchewan including 149 mass clinics, as well as 58 mobile and 23 drive-thru clinics. Clinic locations and hours of operations will be made public once the province moves into Phase 2, which could be as early as April.

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan government prepares for mass COVID-19 immunizations' Saskatchewan government prepares for mass COVID-19 immunizations
Saskatchewan government prepares for mass COVID-19 immunizations – Feb 19, 2021

The tentative hours of operations for mass immunization and drive-thru clinics in Regina and Saskatoon is seven days a week, 16 hours per day. As for clinics in other regions in Saskatchewan, tentative hours are Monday to Friday, 12 hours a day, and Saturday to Sunday, eight hours a day.

Read more: Saskatchewan confident easing COVID-19 restrictions in Regina, despite variant spike

In addition to mass clinics and mobile and drive-thru sites, the province has also made an agreement with the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan to follow the flu immunization model to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine.

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On April 12, the government announced pharmacists would start administering vaccines the week of April 26, or earlier, depending on vaccine supply. Pharmacists will also be offering vaccines to pharmacy and grocery staff working in the building where vaccines are offered.

The number of people vaccinated per day is dependent on supply. Moe has been vocal with his criticism of the federal government’s procurement of vaccines.

At the virtual premiers conference on March 4, Moe said the federal government has done a “disappointing job at best,” of procuring vaccines.

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Scott Moe pressures feds for more COVID-19 vaccines, Sask. running out – Jan 20, 2021

When does Saskatchewan plan on hitting maximum capacity?

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, has said with the approvals of more vaccines such as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, individuals aged 18 and over could be vaccinated with a first dose by June.

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On March 9, Moe announced that people in their 60s will begin getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine starting April 5. People in their 50s will start getting vaccinated on April 19, people in their 40s will begin vaccinations May 10, people in their 30s on May 31 and all other adults should start getting vaccinated by June 14.

On the same day, Moe said more doses are coming in the next three weeks than the province received in the past three months.

Read more: Saskatchewan surpasses 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines administered

According to the federal government’s forecasted allocation of vaccines, Saskatchewan should see 658,710 Pfizer vaccines delivered between April 26 and July 4. This number is based on a six-dose per vial product.

A total of 49,800 Moderna doses will be allocated to Saskatchewan between April 26 and May 16. On March 26, the SHA announced that a shipment of 21,300 Moderna vaccines would be delayed up to six days and cause some already booked appointments to be impacted.

From March 8-14, Saskatchewan received 15,500 AstraZeneca vaccines. Between March 29 and April 4, Saskatchewan received 46,600 AstraZeneca doses from the United States. An additional 9,800 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines arrived from COVAX between April 5 and 11.

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On March 29, Saskatchewan announced they would put a pause on administering the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone under the age of 55, following updated guidelines from NACI.

Saskatchewan opened up a drive-thru clinic for Regina residents aged 60-64 and priority health-care workers to get AstraZeneca vaccinations due to high case numbers in the city. The clinic was  operational for nine days and was available for residents age 58 and over. The province opened up the age eligibility based on national guidelines that those over 65 can receive an AstraZeneca vaccine.

The clinic reopened on April 3, along with drive-thru and walk-in clinics in other communities across the province.

Read more: More COVID-19 vaccination sites opening across Saskatchewan for 55+

The vaccinations were offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

The site closed temporarily on March 22 because vaccines had run out. The SHA said the drive-thru will remain closed until more vaccine comes available.

How the province is ensuring vulnerable populations are prioritized 

Saskatchewan prioritized long-term and personal care home residents in Phase 1, followed by residents over the age of 70 in all communities, as well as residents aged 50 and over in rural, remote northern communities.

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Phase 1 also accommodates health-care workers in emergency departments; intensive care units; COVID-19 wards; COVID testing and assessment staff; respiratory therapists; code blue and trauma teams; and EMS, road and air transport teams.

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Creating a safe space for Indigenous peoples to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Regina – Mar 19, 2021

In Phase 2, the general population will be vaccinated in 10-year increments starting with those in their 60s. Along with this age group, those living in emergency shelters and group homes, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be vaccinated at the same time.

There is also the potential for age groupings to widen for those under 50 if vaccine supplies allow.

According to government and health officials, vaccinating by age group is “the most rapid and efficient way” to deliver vaccinations.

“In contrast, vaccination targeted to specific conditions or populations is much more complex and significantly slows down the ability to reach all residents as quickly as possible. This approach also carries the added risk of potentially missing some vulnerable groups,” the government explained in their vaccine rollout plan.

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How Saskatchewan is communicating with residents about vaccine administration

The province has rolled out a vaccine campaign on print, TV, radio, digital, social media and billboards. The campaign will focus on providing accurate and timely information to the public, as well as spread awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Read more: List of COVID-19 school exposures and outbreaks in Saskatchewan

An online booking system has been developed by the Government of Saskatchewan and will allow residents to book their first and second doses appointments.

The system launched on March 11 at 8 a.m. The system was first open for seniors aged 85 and over who wanted to book an appointment online or over the phone. As of May 20, those aged 12 and older are eligible to book a vaccine over the phone or via the online booking system.

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Individuals aged 18 to 26 living in the province’s Northern Administrative District can call to book their COVID-19 vaccine. A map of the district can be found on the government’s website.

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Family members and friends who are not eligible can book on behalf of someone who is eligible.

The online booking system can be accessed on the government website. Residents wishing to call instead can speak to a booking agent by dialing 1-833-SASK-VAX (1-833-727-5829). The call centre operates from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

To book an appointment using the online system, residents should have their valid health card and cell phone number or email address handy.

Read more: COVID-19 outbreaks in Saskatchewan

Over the next few days, the government will open up this booking system to other age groups.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority originally had been calling eligible individuals to book appointments. They phased this process out once the online booking system was operational.

The online booking system will also incorporate an algorithm allowing individuals to also book their second dose, SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said.

Saskatchewan’s second-dose strategy 

Health officials announced on May 6 that health-care workers will soon start administering second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The beginning of the second-dose administrations will overlap with the completion of the first dose, which health officials anticipate everyone over the age of 18 will have access to by the end of May.

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As of May 7, 45,655 people have received both vaccine doses in Saskatchewan.

Starting on May 17, anyone aged 85 or older, or anyone who received their first dose before Feb. 15, will have the opportunity to book their second dose.

Provincial officials added that second doses will be given out according to the age-based and priority sequencing of first doses.

The interval between the first and second doses can be up to 16 weeks. Saskatchewan will start second doses at an interval of 13 weeks or sooner based on the availability of vaccines.

Youth vaccination  

On May 6, Saskatchewan government officials also announced children 12 to 15 years old would be included in the vaccine rollout.

Health Canada authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the age category on May 5. Previous to this, the vaccine was only approved for Canadians over the age of 16.

Officials are aiming to have the shot available to those between the ages of 12 and 15 by May 20.

Read more: All Saskatchewan residents 12+ eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by May 20: officials

The province is looking to have first doses administered in school-based programs before the end of the school year. Youth can also visit other clinics to get vaccinated as well.

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Officials added that parental consent will be required for youth to receive the vaccine. As of May 6, details on the school-based programs were still being finalized. The province said more information will come from public health and school divisions when available.

Youth aged 12 to 15 who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable are immediately eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. A letter will need to be presented at the time of immunization.

Youth receiving Rituximab and Ocrelizumab will need to obtain a letter from their physician, who have been provided with a template for this use.

Youth with a cancer diagnosis or in treatment or who have received a solid organ transplant will receive the eligibility letter from the Saskatchewan government.  

Will Saskatchewan meet the federal government’s target to have everyone vaccinated by September?

While the province hasn’t confirmed if they will be able to meet the federal government’s target, Livingstone said people won’t have to wait up to four months to get their second dose if there’s increasing supply. He added that officials are optimistic about the number of vaccines scheduled to arrive in the future.

“Those second doses I don’t think are going to be a challenge at all,” Livingstone said.

In a press release sent May 6, officials said it is anticipated that all Saskatchewan residents will have received both vaccine doses by July 31

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–With files from Jonathan Guignard, David Giles

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