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COVID-19 vaccinations in Saskatchewan to be expanded to first responders

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WATCH: First responders are now being prioritized to get the COVID-19 vaccine after calls from police to get their officers the jab – Apr 12, 2021

First responders in Saskatchewan, including police officers, firefighters and public health inspectors are to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations.

However, the province says it could be two weeks before those start.

Mobile vaccination units are currently targeting select congregate living settings including group home and shelter staff and residents.

Read more: Age eligibility expands at Regina drive-thru vaccine clinic

Once complete, officials say the mobile units will then turn to first responders.

“As we continue to make great progress in our vaccine delivery, we are able to utilize our mobile vaccination unit capacity to target those first responders that are assisting in enforcement of our public health orders,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a statement Monday.

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“These mobile units will be dispatched to central workplaces of these first responders and will operate without compromising our mass vaccination capacity that exists in our age-based vaccine delivery.”

However, vaccination of Regina police officers started this past weekend at the drive-thru site at Evraz Place as COVID-19 variants of concern are a predominant worry in the regions, health officials said.

The Regina Police Service said roughly 140 front-line officers received their first shot on the weekend.

The RPS said its front-line members are uniformed officers responding to COVID-19 and emergency calls.

Approximately 60 additional officers have yet to receive their first shot, the RPS said, adding the process has been paused based on vaccine supplies.

Read more: Overview of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 vaccination plan

The announcement comes after three Saskatoon officers were forced to self-isolate after being exposed to a positive person while attending a drug overdose call over the weekend.

For Cst. Mitch Barber, it’s his fourth time having to self-isolate after being exposed on the job.

“We’re not in a controlled environment. We are in an environment which changes very quickly,” he told Global News from his hotel room, where he and other members are isolating.

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“We’re in situations on a routine basis that we have to get hands-on with people to restrain them, and whether we have goggles, masks and gloves on, if we’re able to get them on in those time frames, they’re getting pulled off and they’re getting fogged up.”

Melanie Durrant is a constable in Moose Jaw. The mother of two said she worries about incidents like in Saskatoon happening elsewhere.

“If a few officers in Moose Jaw get COVID and start taking out other officers you’re not going to not have many officers left on the streets anymore,” she said.

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

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said Monday’s announcement is a step in the right direction, especially given what happened to officers over the weekend.

“Given some of the stories that we’re hearing and given the kind of calls that officers are going to, I’m glad to see this progress,” he said.

Clark added he is also concerned about other essential workers, including teachers, transit operators and grocery store clerks. Essential workers have been making calls to be prioritized in the vaccine rollout, pointing to variants attacking younger people who work in those positions.

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Barber said he’s excited by Monday’s announcement, and said he plans to get vaccinated as soon as he’s able.

Unused vaccines going to health-care workers

The province is also allocating unused vaccines from the Phase 1 delivery to health-care workers.

Health officials said of the 40,500 priority vaccinations allocated for Phase 1, 27,348 — 67 per cent — first doses were administered.

The rest of the doses will be allocated to the remaining front-line health care workers not included in Phase 1, the province said, adding all doctors will be included in the priority sequencing.

Physicians are being added as they may be called on to assist in clinical care and surge capacity needs, officials said.

They added that eligible doctors will receive a letter from the College of Physicians and Surgeons and eligible health-care workers will receive a letter from the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

The letters will provide details on how to book their vaccination appointment.

Read more: Sask. pharmacies to administer vaccines by mid-April: health minister

Pharmacies, meanwhile, are being tasked to pharmacy and grocery store staff attached to those facilities when they start delivering vaccines, which is set as the week of April 26.

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“As pharmacies begin delivering the COVID-19 vaccine, we know there will be an increased risk of exposure to those frontline staff working in those facilities,” Merriman said.

“By making the COVID-19 vaccine available to staff working in the pharmacy or attached grocery spaces through the pharmacists delivering the vaccine, these workers will be protected.”

Proof of employment will be required by the pharmacy, health officials said.

They added staff working at a facility where vaccinations are taking place are eligible to receive their shot at that facility.

With files from Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi

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