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Essential front-line workers call for change to Saskatchewan’s age-based vaccine rollout

Click to play video: 'Essential front-line workers call for change to Saskatchewan’s age-based vaccine rollout' Essential front-line workers call for change to Saskatchewan’s age-based vaccine rollout
WATCH: With new COVID-19 variants hitting young people, essential front-line workers say it's time to reprioritize who gets the vaccine shot first – Apr 8, 2021

Though many have already been vaccinated in Saskatchewan, essential front-line workers are calling for a change to the age-based vaccine rollout plan amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

With new variants hitting young people, they say it’s time to reprioritize who gets the jab first.

Matthew Cardinal has been in ICU in Regina since March 22 battling COVID-19. The 34-year-old waiter and bartender said he believes he, and several colleagues, were exposed to the virus on the job.

Read more: ‘It’s just surreal at this point’: Families of young COVID-19 ICU patients speak out

While his coworkers also go sick, he said they weren’t in as critical condition as him.

“I was always cautious. I was always cleaning, wiping things down, making sure people wore a mask but it’s still scary that I got it,” he told Global News from his hospital room.

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After around two and half weeks in hospital, Cardinal has finally been given the good news: he’s healthy enough to recover at home by Friday.

“I have a new perspective on life now; it’s like a second chance,” Cardinal said shortly after learning the news. “When COVID’s over I want to hug everybody that wished me well — strangers, everything.”

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Cardinal said Saskatchewan’s vaccine rollout based on age does not account for young people like him, who are at risk on the job.

“The virus has changed and mutated, so I believe so should the plans for vaccinations,” he explained.

Nurses’, Teachers’, Workers’ unions calling for more

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) said all essential workers, from medical personal to grocery store clerks, need to be the province’s priority.

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“We know that we’re up against variants, and we know the working population … are the age group of the variants,” said president Tracy Zambory.

Read more: P.1 variant is spreading in Canada. What do we know about it and vaccines?

“That’s who’s being attacked by the variants, that’s who’s in our intensive care units.”

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation is making similar calls. President Patrick Maze said staff are in crowded classrooms with upwards of 30 students almost every day.

“Initially it seemed to only be affecting the elderly,” Maze said. “The variants aren’t so selective so everyone seems to be at risk.”

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The organization representing more than 100,000 workers in the province said some changes to workplaces, including allowing employees to call in sick, could help.

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“There’s large production plants and things like that where we’ve seen outbreaks continually,” said the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour’s president Lori Johb.

“If there would be rapid testing in these workplaces, perhaps if they had a vaccination clinic for one or two days that could vaccinate a lot of people and make those workplaces safe.”

Johb said many of the federation’s members are scared about going in to work without the vaccine, but at the same time they can’t afford not to work.

Read more: Saskatchewan continues age-based COVID-19 vaccine plan despite calls to target essential workers

However, the province maintains prioritizing vaccination based on age is still the best model.

“The age-based sequence on our base vaccination program is working for us, that’s why we’re leading the country right now,” health minister Paul Merriman told reporters Wednesday.

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