Saskatoon

'It's just a matter of being patient': Key health official answers questions about vaccine rollout

The first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations in Saskatchewan has led to questions about how the vaccine is being rolled out, so a Saskatchewan Health Authority official agreed to explain some of the details.

Dr. Kevin Wasko says priority is on saving lives, and teams are working hard to distribute vaccine

Dr. Kevin Wasko, physician executive for integrated rural health for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, says vaccine delivery will be based on reducing mortality above all other factors. (Saskatchewan Medical Association)

The first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations in Saskatchewan has led to questions and concerns about how the vaccine is being rolled out.

Some would like more information about when their turn will come. Where do groups such as teachers, police and others fit in? And why have some regions administered thousands of doses while others such as Moose Jaw and area received none?

Dr. Kevin Wasko is the physician executive for integrated rural health at the Saskatchewan Health Authority. He agreed to explain some of the details in an interview with CBC reporter Jason Warick.

The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

CBC: Some regions, including Moose Jaw, have not received any vaccine. Why is that?

Wasko: There are many parts of the province that haven't received any vaccine. It's important to clarify this isn't [only] a vaccination program for health-care workers. The program is about reducing mortality and morbidity in society. That means immunizing our most vulnerable populations, namely long-term care and personal care home residents and a few key select members of the health workforce. That includes physicians, nurses and other workers in certain care settings but not all in the first phase. The priority focus is on our most vulnerable populations. It is an immunization program to save lives.

The rollout of the immunization program was directed initially where we had capacity to store the vaccine in ultra-cold freezers. We only had those freezers in Regina, then Saskatoon and then Prince Albert. We also had limits on how we could transport the vaccine. People had to come to the vaccine. Since that time, we've been able to get more freezers in places we can distribute that [Pfizer-BioNTech] vaccine easier. We have guidance to allow for the safe transport of the vaccine off site. Those were two very important developments.

CBC: So where else are freezer deliveries going?

Wasko: This week, we were able to have a freezer in North Battleford so we can roll out for the most vulnerable there. We have a freezer now in Yorkton ... but no one has been immunized there yet. We have a freezer coming to Swift Current. We will be able to transport the vaccine now to Moose Jaw to immunize there. That will all happen in sequence. What drives where we go first is the epidemiology. At this point, North Battleford has much higher cases, more outbreaks, higher attack rates than Moose Jaw. That's why this week North Battleford is going first. We did have a plan to go to Moose Jaw, but due to Pfizer shortages we had to ration the vaccine and make a decision on where it would have the greatest impact. It was about the ability to distribute. Now that that's sorted out, it will be based on the epidemiology.

CBC: How do you feel about the vaccination program so far?

Wasko: Our teams are working incredibly hard to get the vaccine out to people. There are a lot of people out there wondering when the vaccine is going to be available. I'd reassure them that while we have limited supply now, we do foresee we will have much more coming in the next month or so. Everyone who needs the vaccine will be prioritized first. In the summer, we will be able to offer it more broadly.

CBC: What would you say to those who are anxious to be vaccinated?

Wasko: It's just a matter of being patient, trusting it will happen. And when your time comes, everyone take the opportunity to be immunized, because ... society and our way of life depends on it.

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