Saskatoon

Sask. unions want all health workers prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines

Unions representing thousands of Saskatchewan health workers are demanding their members be put on the priority list for COVID-19 vaccinations.

A select number are already on priority list, but province says elderly, vulnerable are the priority

Health-care unions in Saskatchewan say their members should be placed on the priority list for COVID-19 vaccines. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Unions representing thousands of Saskatchewan health workers are demanding their members be put on the priority list for COVID-19 vaccinations.

CUPE, SGEU and SEIU-West officials said these workers are at risk of contracting the virus and of spreading it to the people in their care. The unions represent a wide range of workers including lab technologists, home-care workers, licensed practical nurses  and security guards.

A select number of health workers are on Saskatchewan's Phase 1 vaccination list, but the province says its main priority is vaccinating the elderly and medically vulnerable.

In a joint statement, the unions said vaccinating all health workers would keep the system running.

"The fact that our provincial government is not prioritizing health workers is incredibly concerning, because it ignores scientific and expert advice," said Barb Cape, president of SEIU-West.

"It's a bad decision and I think we're going to pay for it."

Cape said prioritizing health workers could create a "community of protection" among those fighting COVID-19 and help deal with a growing backlog of surgeries and other health needs.

"They are doing incredible important work, but we're not protecting them," she said.

Tracey Sauer, chair of the SGEU health providers bargaining committee, said others provinces have chosen to vaccinate all health workers at earlier stages of their rollouts than Saskatchewan.

Cape, Sauer and others want the Saskatchewan government to follow the guidelines set by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

"Health-care workers should be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, since health-care workers providing front-line care to patients are differentially exposed to SARS-CoV-2, and are needed to protect health-care capacity," the NACI guidelines read.

Saskatchewan had initially planned to follow those guidelines, but changed that plan last month.

Sauer said her members have made incredible sacrifices for their community and their province.

"They have unselfishly gone to work every day, knowing they may get this virus. They've been there through thick and thin," Sauer said.

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