Saskatoon·Video

Adding front-line workers to Sask. priority list could jeopardize June vaccination target: Moe

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says tweaking the COVID-19 vaccine priority list to include front-line workers vulnerable to the spread of variants could jeopardize the province's already-stated goal of ensuring as many willing members of the general public as possible are offered their first dose of vaccine by June. 

Government seeking to offer first dose to all who can take it by the end of June

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe takes questions from the media at the legislative assembly on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (CTV)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says tweaking the COVID-19 vaccine priority list to include front-line workers vulnerable to the spread of variants could jeopardize the province's already-stated goal of ensuring as many willing members of the general public as possible are offered their first dose of vaccine by the end of June.

The premier was asked Tuesday about adding essential workers such as emergency room doctors to the top of the priority list. 

"Right now, the challenge we have with changing the priority moving forward is it's going to slow down our ability to deliver the high volume of vaccines that we've been able to thus far," Moe replied.

"If you look at the next number of weeks and our plan to have everyone in this province having access to that vaccine by June, that means if we slow that down we may not have everyone in this province to have access to a vaccine until a number of weeks later."

WATCH | Moe says 'the only strategy through the pandemic is vaccines' 

Moe says adding front-line workers to Sask. priority list could jeopardize June vaccination target

CBC News Saskatchewan

8 days ago
1:43
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says tweaking the COVID-19 vaccine priority list to include front-line workers could jeopardize June vaccination target. 1:43

Moe said continuing to use age as the main criterion for vaccinating the general public remains "the most efficient and quickest way for everyone, including all of our front-line workers," to get vaccinated. 

"At this point in time, what we are focusing on is how can we turn around the comparatively larger numbers of vaccines that we're receiving today and make them available to Saskatchewan people as quickly as possible?"

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the COVID-19 attack rate remains highest among seniors.

"If we start looking at micro-targeting certain groups and specific groups, it slows down the overall vaccination process for the whole province," he said. 

One thing that's hampering vaccination efforts is the requirement to limit the age pool of AstraZeneca vaccine recipients. 

"I just checked. We have over 36,000 AstraZeneca [doses] sitting right now," Merriman said. "We can only use them for a very small percentage of the population out there. So that's a concern on my part. I'm hoping that [Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization] can [change] those age limits so we can start moving them out."

Gov't 'extremely concerned' with number of COVID patients

Moe's government is being asked by some groups and health professionals to consider extending early vaccine access to various front-facing groups, including teachers, hospital workers, police officers and young workers. 

"There are people going to work every day at grocery stores or truck drivers or even people in health care who are being asked to go to work everyday and put themselves at a really high risk, but yet they may not be vaccinated for two months or three months or four months from now," said Dr. Hassan Masri, an intensive care specialist in Saskatoon.

Dr. Kevin Wasko, lead physician with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), agreed the province should consider tweaking its priority list to include front-line workers. 

The calls for change come as intensive care COVID-19 hospitalizations in Saskatchewan remain at or near all-time highs. As of Tuesday, 44 patients were in ICU, including 30 people in the Regina area. 

The Regina area accounts for 803 — or 84 per cent — of the variant of concern cases with confirmed lineage reported in Saskatchewan.

"We're extremely concerned about this," Merriman said of the number of COVID patients in hospital. "This is the most that we've seen in Regina, certainly. And across the province, there is some some issues with the variants. That's why we've had tighter restrictions."

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman spoke to media Tuesday in Regina. (CTV)

Merriman said that, for the time being, the province can still send patients to Saskatoon if there's no room left in Regina ICUs.

"But we have to protect that provincial capacity because if things start overflowing in Saskatoon, then we have a different issue that we need to look at," he said.

Moe criticized for not wearing mask in legislature

Tuesday marked the beginning of a new session in the Saskatchewan legislature.

Things got off to a testy start.

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili criticized Moe for not wearing a mask when addressing his colleagues in the house, especially given the high number of variants in cities such as Regina. 

"Why does he think it's more important for the people of Saskatchewan to see his face than it is to protect his colleagues, the staff, and to set a good example for the entire province?" Meili said. 

Moe addresses fellow MLAs in the Saskatchewan legislature without a mask from behind a plexiglass barrier. (CBC)

Moe rose, again took off his mask and pointed out the Plexiglass barriers erected in the house.

"I have one, as every other member of this assembly does," Moe said. "That's to ensure that we are keeping people in this assembly [safe], setting the example and keeping people across the province safe."

Moe later kept his mask on when addressing the media. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

with files from Adam Hunter, Cory Coleman and Emily Pasiuk

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