The main message from provincial officials at the latest COVID-19 update on Tuesday afternoon was the importance of vaccines in reducing case numbers.
"It is now extremely clear that vaccines are slowing the spread of COVID, reducing hospitalizations and saving lives,” said Health Minister Paul Merriman.
“Vaccines are working. They are reducing the spread of COVID and they are reducing the number of severe outcomes.”
Merriman pointed to a series of graphs that were about to be presented at the news conference by Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, showing cases and hospitalizations in the month of May. Merriman made the point that the vast majority of those who contracted COVID-19 and ended up in hospital had not been vaccinated.
“I don’t know the reasons for each of these individuals not getting vaccinated. In May, not everyone had the chance to be vaccinated. But now, you sure do.”
The data Dr. Shahab shared included the following numbers. Of new COVID-19 cases, 91.9 percent were unvaccinated or their first dose was within three weeks of the vaccine, with 8.1 percent three weeks beyond the first dose.
In the 191 hospitalizations in May, 155 or 81.1 percent were unvaccinated or had their first dose within three weeks. 36 had their first dose beyond the three weeks and of those 36, 28 had comorbidities.
Out of 46 ICU admissions, 40 were unvaccinated or had their first dose within three weeks; most of the rest were over 70 and had comorbidities.
During the question and answer period that followed, Merriman was questioned extensively about Saskatchewan falling behind other provinces in rates of first doses.
Merriman reiterated they had “extremely good uptake”, but pointed out the province was one of the first to move into second doses, to make sure that the generation most vulnerable in their 70s, 80s and over could get their second shot and be fully vaccinated. He acknowledged there was an overlapping with the first shots of those 30 and under.
Merriman also pointed to other things the province was doing such as engaging schools, post-secondary, universities and reaching out to newcomer communities and New Canadian associations so the information gets out. Merriman said he did not think the issue was vaccine hesitancy, but more because it was summertime and people were not looking at getting vaccinated — instead, perhaps looking at waiting until next week or the week after. He urged people to get vaccinated immediately.
Merriman was also asked about whether they could bring in potential incentives for people to get vaccinated, but responded they not seen anything that would "jump up" the rates considerably enough. They were not looking at any incentive programs right now, he said.