More health-care workers given priority in Sask's vaccine plan

Physicians, pharmacists, radiology technicians, home care workers and more have been added to the list for Phase 1.

The nurses union says they are disappointed to see majority of registered nurses left off the list

Some health-care workers previously not included in Phase 1 of Saskatchewan's vaccine plan will now be on the priority sequencing list. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

More health-care workers are set to be vaccinated in Phase 1 of Saskatchewan's plan than previously announced. 

However, not all nurses are on the same priority list, and that's getting a negative reaction from their union.

On Feb. 16, the province announced an update on its vaccine distribution plan.

Phase 1 of the vaccination plan is currently underway. On Feb. 9, the province said it would include high-risk populations such as seniors, residents and staff in long-term and personal care homes, along with health-care workers in emergency departments, COVID-19 units, testing and assessment centres, intensive care units and other high-risk settings. 

Following the announcement, health-care workers not included in Phase 1 were quick to speak out, saying they should be prioritized. The Canadian Medical Association also said the plan was "not supportive of healthcare workers." 

On Tuesday, the province said the Ministry of Health had reviewed the plan and added additional health-care workers to the Phase 1 priority list, including those directly involved with: 

  • Delivering COVID-19 immunizations in Phase 2, including physicians (up to 2,600), pharmacists (up to 1,200) and other SHA health care providers.
  • Anesthesia/operating rooms.
  • All other critical care areas.
  • Hemodialysis.
  • Vaccination teams.
  • Radiology technicians.
  • ECG/echo.
  • Phlebotomy/lab workers handling COVID-19 specimens.
  • Direct home care providers.

The changes will add an estimated 11,500 people to the Phase 1 priority list. Premier Scott Moe said at a news conference Tuesday that 226 immunization clinics in 181 communities are prepared to start immunizing people, but that it is a matter of supply.

"Our vaccination program continues to move ahead as quickly as we are able, given the very limited supply of vaccines that we are receiving from the federal government," Moe said. "We just need more of them and we need more of them very quickly." 

Moe said the federal government's plan to ramp up vaccine deliveries in March cannot happen soon enough. He also reiterated that the province's mass vaccination program will continue to be primarily organized by age.

"Age-based sequencing is the best way to vaccinate as many people as possible and the best way to do that as quickly as possible. And in doing so, we can reduce severe outcomes as much as possible," Moe said. 

Nurses union 'disappointed' to still be left out of vaccine plan

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory said that while she is supportive of the inclusion of physicians and pharmacists, the plan still leaves out the vast majority of registered nurses.

"This is unacceptable. We made it very clear the importance of registered nurses, how we are the largest group of care providers in the system," Zambory said.

Zambory points to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which stated that anyone who has direct patient care should be prioritized, including registered nurses. She said nurses work hands-on with patients and if they become ill there will be nobody to keep the system going. 

Registered nurses are tired, they're anxious, and now they're disappointed yet again.​​​​​​- Tracy  Zambory, SUN president

She said it's difficult to get transparency and communication from the province. 

"It's extremely disappointing that there isn't recognition for the fact that registered nurses are the backbone of the health-care system," Zambory said. "Registered nurses are tired, they're anxious, and now they're disappointed yet again."

Change may delay beginning of Phase 2: Moe

Moe said that if the vaccine supply does not ramp up, there may be delays starting Phase 2 as more people are vaccinated in Phase 1. Moe said the province is anticipating more vaccine doses at the end of March and into early April to offset the now-11,500 more people in Phase 1.

"We would think that the delay would be minimal for those additional doses and most certainly the benefit in our health-care sector, in protecting our health-care sector, would be substantial," Moe said.

Long-term care and personal care home residents and staff, residents 70 and older in all communities, and residents over the age of 50 living in remote or northern Saskatchewan are also included in Phase 1. 

The Ministry said Phase 2 of the vaccine delivery plan remains unchanged.

Phase 2 focuses on the general population in 10-year increments, beginning with people aged 60 to 69. It also includes targeted vaccinations for adults and staff in group homes for people with intellectual disabilities and in shelters, according to the province.

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

With files from Laura Sciarpelletti, Guy Quenneville and Heidi Atter


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