Saskatchewan

Sask. not offering 2nd COVID-19 booster doses to people under 50 until fall, despite low booster rates

Fewer than 6,500 people aged 18 or older have received a booster dose in the province since April 30. That's less than a percentage point of the adult population.

Fewer than 6,500 people aged 18 or older have received a booster dose in the province since April 30

A jar full of empty COVID-19 vaccine vials is shown at the Junction Chemist pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

COVID-19 has been an isolating experience for Gabrielle Bird. 

The 27-year-old has missed funerals and felt untethered from their community, Bird told CBC News this week from Regina.

Recently, Bird was presented with the opportunity to visit a grandmother and make amends for the complicated past the two share.

However, with COVID-19 cases rising in Canada — and months having passed since their third COVID-19 vaccine dose — they made the choice not to make the trip up to the hospital in North Battleford, Sask. 

"The fact that she's in there for something respiratory, I'm like, 'am I losing my one chance to properly make amends and find peace and put it at rest?'" Bird said. 

Bird is one of more than 510,000 adults in Saskatchewan who do not qualify for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine under the province's current guidelines.

Fourth dose eligibility is only open to those 50 or older, four months after they've received their third dose. 

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health told CBC News this week that that "planning is underway for fall COVID-19 booster delivery."

The plan will incorporate the recommendations released by National Advisory Committee on Immunization's (NACI) in July, the province said.

It declined to provide specifics of the fall roll out, saying details would be announced once the appropriate planning has been completed.

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Many people who spoke with CBC News — including health-care workers, educators and parents wanting to protect their children who are unable to get vaccinated — expressed bewilderment at the province's answer, as the BA.5 subvariant has already started to fuel waves in other provinces

Lauryn Kronick, 37, has received three doses of COVID-19 vaccine and is "eagerly" awaiting a fourth. 

Kronick continues to mask indoors in Saskatoon and takes necessary precautions when in large groups. They say it's not just for their benefit — they have yet to get COVID-19 — but for immunocompromised people in the community as well.

"It's been more than six months since I got my first booster or my third dose. And I just don't fully understand why the general public is being kept in the dark about their eligibility," Kronick said. 

Following the science 

Nazeem Muhajarine says experts face a challenge when trying to assess whether the province should expand booster eligibility.

The professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan said the data is not available for them to judge the current state of the pandemic in Saskatchewan, since the province has moved to only reporting COVID-19 case numbers monthly. 

"What gets measured, gets managed and looked after. We are we are now in a situation where, again, this is by design by government, that COVID 19 numbers are not going to be reported in a weekly basis," he said. 

Without the data for Saskatchewan, Muhajarine says it is important to follow information emerging from other provinces, such as Ontario and Quebec where there are rising case counts.

The fast-spreading Omicron BA.5 subvariant is driving those waves. Muhajarine said that it is likely the subvariant will become the dominant variant in Saskatchewan by the time the next report on COVID-19 data is released on July 21. 

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Dr. Christopher Labos, a cardiologist an epidemiologist  in Montreal, said that as case numbers rise, the argument for widening eligibility to fourth doses becomes stronger.

"I was a little bit ambivalent a few weeks ago, but now that we're seeing the numbers trending in the wrong direction, especially for high-risk individuals, I think you probably do need to get a fourth dose at this point," he told Leisha Grebinski, the host of CBC's Saskatoon Morning. 

While the latest evidence shows the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are better at evading people's immunity, either from vaccination or from previous infections, Muhajarine said vaccination remains one of the best tools to avoid getting seriously ill.

"[Vaccination] is our trump card, but it is not the only card on our hand that we need to play," said Muhajarine. "Other … cards we need to play are those public health measures."

Muhajarine stressed that health measures do not mean the introduction of harsh restrictions, but the continued use of tools like wearing masks when indoors and social distancing. 

Vaccination rates flatline in Sask.

Saskatchewan's administration of COVID-19 vaccines has flatlined across every metric it shares publicly.

Since April 30, fewer than 6,500 people aged 18 or older have received a booster dose in the province. That's less than a percentage point of the adult population, which means the percentage of adults with a booster dose hasn't increased past 52 per cent. 

Saskatchewan's percentage of people who have been vaccinated with the two primary doses and a single booster dose is one of the lowest among provinces. Only Alberta has less coverage as of June 19, according to Health Canada data

The provincial Ministry of Health says getting a third dose remains "very important" for protection against COVID-19 variants. 

The health ministry confirmed there is no problem with supply. As of Sunday, the province has 185,145 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for those 12 and older, and 24,887 doses for people five to 11. 

Roughly two per cent of all COVID-19 vaccinations — or 63,698 doses — the province has received since December 2020 have expired.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Quon is a reporter with CBC Saskatchewan based in Regina. After working in Atlantic Canada for four years he's happy to be back in his home province. He has previously worked with the CBC News investigative unit in Nova Scotia and Global News in Halifax. Alexander specializes in data-reporting, COVID-19 and municipal political coverage. He can be reached at: Alexander.Quon@cbc.ca.

With files from Saskatoon Morning with Leisha Grebinski

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