Saskatchewan

Doctor, ER nurse are 1st Sask. residents to get COVID-19 vaccine

A doctor and nurse who work directly with COVID-19 patients are the first Saskatchewan residents to be vaccinated for the illness that has infected over 73 million people worldwide.

'Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but the fight is not over': Sask. Health Authority official

Saskatchewan doctor welcomes campaign to end the coronavirus after his own vaccination

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1 month agoVideo
1:35
Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, a critical care physician in Regina, was among the first in Saskatchewan to be inoculated against COVID-19 and sees a door opening that will end the pandemic. 1:35

A doctor and nurse who work directly with COVID-19 patients are the first Saskatchewan residents to be vaccinated for the illness that has infected over 73 million people worldwide.

The federal government shipped out Canada's first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week. Saskatchewan's shipment arrived Tuesday afternoon, and the first immunizations were given at the Regina General Hospital at 6 p.m. CST.

"Today we're really seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but the fight is not over," said Dr. Tania Diener, the Saskatchewan Health Authority's lead medical health officer for immunization.

"We still need to remain vigilant, because we want to continue to save lives in Saskatchewan by applying all COVID precautions," she said. "We need to remember exactly where we are in the pandemic, and we need to remember the losses we have had in this province."  

Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, a critical-care physician, and Leah Sawatsky, an emergency room nurse, were the first two residents to receive the vaccine.

Leah Sawatsky, left, and Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, right, pose for a photo moments after receiving their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. (CBC)

Diener thanked both volunteers for stepping up to show the vaccine is safe, and hopefully encourage others to get the immunization as well.

"This is one step closer to seeing this through to the end," Dr. Betcher told reporters immediately after getting the immunization. "I feel good about this."

The shipment delivered Tuesday contains enough vaccine to give roughly 1,950 residents their first dose. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses. Recipients will receive their second dose 21 days after the first, the province says.

First COVID-19 vaccinations in Saskatchewan

CBC News Saskatoon

1 month agoVideo
4:44
A critical care doctor and critical care nurse were the first recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine at Regina's General Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 15. 4:44

Phased delivery

The Saskatchewan government is taking a phased approach to vaccine delivery, and giving it first to those who need it most, before making it available to the general public.

Health-care workers who work directly with COVID-19 patients at Regina General and Pasqua hospitals, as well as staff at testing and assessment centres, will be the first people eligible to be vaccinated.

"Today is an incredibly exciting day in our fight against COVID-19, as nearly 2,000 people who have been on the front lines delivering care since the beginning of the pandemic start being immunized with their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine," Premier Scott Moe said in a news release issued Tuesday.

"As the first health-care workers in Saskatchewan receive the vaccine, I encourage all Saskatchewan residents to get vaccinated, when the vaccine is made available to them."

After the initial round of immunization, care home residents and staff, other front-line health-care workers, seniors and residents over the age of 50 living in remote or northern Saskatchewan will be given priority, according to the province's vaccine delivery plan.

Vaccination is expected to be widespread by April 2021, the plan says — though that depends on vaccine manufacturing.

'Trust the science'

Indigenous people were not listed as a priority group, despite being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, told CBC News last week that logistics of transporting and storing the vaccine to those communities must be figured out first. When that happens, however, then the province will distribute it in stages for Indigenous people.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs needs to be stored at temperatures between –80 C to –60 C. The Moderna vaccine, currently nearing the final phases of approval in Canada, has to be stored in freezers at –20 C.

The federal government announced Monday that northern, rural and remote communities in Canada will be first in line for the Moderna vaccine, as it is easier to ship and store safely.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses. The second dose must be administered 21 days after the first. (CBC)

Health Canada could approve the Moderna vaccine as early as this week. If approved, the federal government expects to receive 168,000 doses of the vaccine before the new year, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Despite the vaccine's arrival, Betcher warns Saskatchewan residents to not become complacent. They must still adhere to the public health guidelines, such as proper hand hygiene, physical distancing and wearing masks when inside public places.

Seven more Saskatchewan residents died from COVID-19, including someone in their 20s, public health officials announced Tuesday.

The total number of COVID-related deaths in Saskatchewan is now 98.

There are 4,204 known active COVID-19 cases in the province as of Tuesday.

Betcher encourages all Saskatchewan residents to be vaccinated, as it protects that person, as well as the people around them.

Sawatsky, the emergency room nurse who received the vaccine Tuesday, also encourages Saskatchewan residents to get it.

"We're seeing people whose quality of life is getting taken away every day by COVID. It doesn't discriminate by age, so trust the science. It's good for us," she said.

Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, right, was the very first person in Saskatchewan to be vaccinated. (CBC)

CBC Saskatchewan wants to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted you. Share your story with our online questionnaire.

About the Author

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC News. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. Prior to joining the CBC, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email him at nick.frew@cbc.ca

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