'We've been following the rules': Swift Current mayor frustrated over ongoing dearth of vaccines in region

"We've been minding our Ps and Qs and we've been penalized, or our seniors have, by not getting the vaccinations," Mayor Al Bridal says.

'We've been penalized, or our seniors have, by not getting the vaccinations,' Mayor Al Bridal says

Al Bridal was elected as mayor of Swift current three weeks ago. 'It's been quite a bit of pressure, there's no doubt, with COVID,' he says. (Al Bridal for Mayor/Facebook)

The mayor of Swift Current, Sask., says it's very frustrating that, after nearly two months of inoculations in the province, his region is one of only two that has not received any doses of COVID-19 vaccine. 

"We've been following the rules," Al Bridal said. "We've been minding our Ps and Qs and we've been penalized, or our seniors have, by not getting the vaccinations."

Swift Current, located in the southwest region, is the province's seventh largest city. The southwest and south central regions have not received any vaccine since inoculations began in Saskatchewan in mid-December. 

Bridal said that may be a positive sign that local infections have recently been low relative to other areas of the province. As of Tuesday, the "south west 2" subregion that includes Swift Current and Stewart Valley recorded only four known active cases of COVID-19. No outbreaks are currently listed for Swift Current. 

But Bridal said local seniors worried about their susceptibility to the virus have reached out to him and that some nurses in the area have contracted COVID-19.

"Is it frustrating? Very much so, because our seniors and our nurses need protection as much as anybody," he said.

(Government of Saskatchewan)

'The squeaky wheel gets the grease' 

Bridal said he's sought updates from the province during weekly calls between mayors and Minister of Government Relations Don McMorris. He's also reached out regularly to Everett Hindley, the MLA for Swift Current and the minister in charge of issues affecting seniors.

"[The province has] said that they're going to send it to areas where there's high concentrations of COVID, be it the north or Saskatoon. And they've left us out of the loop. It's like anything: the squeaky wheel gets the grease," Bridal said.

Bridal said he's asked government officials why public health order restrictions couldn't be eased in his region given "we have so few cases." 

"How about if we could have more people in a restaurant or how about if I could go visit my family in their home?" Bridal said. 

He said officials told him the province has to have the same rules everywhere. 

"And I said to them, 'But when you're handing out vaccines, you can hand them out in different methods, but not when you're taking restrictions off.' I said, 'That's funny.' They were silent for at least 10 seconds on the phone. No one answered me. And finally somebody said, 'Well, thank you very much for your concerns and we'll take it under advisement.'"

Bridal said the last he heard was that the region may get vaccines this coming Monday.

Minister of Health Paul Merriman speaks to media at the Legislative Building in Regina. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Low supply a factor, minister says

Seniors and residents of long-term care homes were singled out as priority vaccination targets in the first phase of the province's vaccination plan.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Paul Merriman was asked about the lack of vaccines in the two regions and cited recent shortages outside the control of the province as a factor. 

"If we had an unlimited supply of vaccines, we'd be rolling out this evenly across the province," Merriman said. "We don't right now. So we've been targeting areas that have had some challenges in their COVID outbreaks and some areas that have not."

Merriman acknowledged that some shipments that had been announced had to be pulled back due to supply issues.

"So this is a challenge. This is going to continue to be something that we're going to work on to make sure it's as fair and equitable as possible across the province."

CBC News has reached out to the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority for more details on why the southwest and south central regions in particular have yet to receive any vaccines, including whether any logistical challenges exist in those areas.

Bridal said a freezer capable of storing the PfizerBioNTech vaccine at the needed temperature was installed in Swift Current three weeks ago.

(CBC News Graphics)

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Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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