Front-line, emergency and health workers getting moved up for vaccines

New Democratic Leader Ryan Meili again asked the Saskatchewan Party government in question period on April 12 about moving front-line workers to the head of the line for the COVID-19 vaccine. In his response, Premier Scott Moe said that is now happening. Emergency workers and other health care workers will also be prioritized.

This change marks a shift in policy, as the government, up until now, has been largely steadfast in sticking to an vaccination policy focused principally on age, with the oldest Saskatchewan residents getting the vaccine first.

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Meili asked, “Will the Premier commit today to listening to front-line workers and finally getting this third wave under control?

Moe replied, “We’re going to do better than that. We’re going to vaccinate the front-line workers here in Saskatchewan.

“We released a news release here this morning where we are going to use our mobile capacity to ensure that we can provide those vaccines to our police, to our firefighters, as well as our public health inspectors. Upon receiving the vaccines in our pharmacies — those pharmacies that are associated with large grocery stores, with many, many front-line workers — we’re going to ask those pharmacies to vaccinate their front-line staff in those facilities.

Moe continued, “We did prioritize in Phase 1 just over 40,000 health care workers here across the province. We had an uptake of just over 27,000. About 68 per cent of health care workers went and received their vaccine, which leaves about 13,000 unallocated good doses, which is about the amount of the remaining health care workers that were not in that Phase 1. And so we’re going to prioritize them. And so we’re going to vaccinate front-line health care workers here without sacrificing, without sacrificing the nation-leading vaccination capacity that we already have in place.”

In a release which was emailed just before question period, the government said Saskatchewan's vaccine delivery plan will begin to target first responders through mobile vaccination units once current priority populations are complete. Currently, mobile vaccination units are targeting select congregate living settings including group home and shelter staff and residents. Once vaccinations in these settings are complete, mobile vaccination units will target first responders including police officers, fire fighters and public health inspectors and will be dispatched to central workplace settings. Targeted vaccination of first responders with mobile vaccination units is anticipated to commence within two weeks upon the completion of congregate living setting vaccinations.

This raised some contention in question period, as Health Critic Vicki Mowat pointed out that some Regina Police Service officers were immunized over the weekend, but some RCMP members who travelled to Regina had been turned away.

“This is yet another example of this government’s absolutely chaotic vaccine rollout plan, so can the minister clarify? How on earth did the minister decide that some but not all Regina police officers should get their shots? Will this be included in an updated vaccine rollout plan as we’ve been calling for, for days? Don’t tell me we’re back to drawing names from hats,” Mowat said.

Health Minister Paul Merriman replied, “We did do police officers over the weekend. We had a very slow time in our drive-through. Instead of closing down that drive-through, we thought we would maximize that, and we called on the Regina police to be able to send some members out that were front line, to be able to protect them. So we filled up our drive-through.

“I’m not sure why the members opposite are complaining about us filling up our drive-through, complaining about us leading the country, complaining that our vaccine program is ad hoc, Mr. Speaker, when we continue to lead the country. Maybe they should get on board with the rest of Saskatchewan and understand that we are leading our country and we’re doing a fabulous job.”

The release said, “Public health routinely relies on first responders to assist in the enforcement of public health orders that are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.  Similar to the vaccination of vaccine delivery teams, vaccinating first responders involved with enforcing COVID-19 orders will reduce the risk of transmission to personnel that support the overall COVID-19 response.  Paramedics, commonly considered first responders, were prioritized for vaccination in Phase 1 of the vaccine delivery plan.

“To kick-start the vaccination of first responders in Regina where variants of concern are a predominant concern, vaccination of police officers in Regina began this weekend at the drive-thru site at Evraz Place. This was done during a time of low wait times on Saturday evening and into Sunday.”

Remaining front-line health care workers not included in Phase 1 prioritization will be allocated the remaining 13,152 first-doses.

All physicians are being included in priority sequencing as they may be called on to assist in clinical care areas and surge capacity needs. Eligible Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) healthcare workers and physicians will receive notice and a letter of eligibility directing them to book a vaccination appointment by telephone. The notification will come from either the College of Physicians and Surgeons for doctors or the SHA for other healthcare staff. The SHA frontline healthcare staff includes outpatient and community services staff, nurses, pharmacists, therapy staff, mental health professionals, social workers, housekeeping, dietary and ward support staff.

Remaining health care workers not included in the Phase 1 prioritization will be able to book their COVID-19 vaccination by phone only upon receipt of a letter of eligibility by calling 1-833-SASKVAX.

Saskatchewan's pharmacists are set to begin participating in delivering vaccines on the week of April 26, according to the release. In addition to offering increased access to the general public in pharmacies through the age-based sequence, pharmacists will be offering vaccines to pharmacy and grocery staff working in the facility where vaccines are offered.

Pharmacies will require proof of employment in the facility where the vaccine is being delivered. Any staff working in a facility where vaccine delivery is occurring will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in that facility.

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