'All hands on deck': Sask. releases details of COVID-19 mass vaccination plan
REGINA -- The province provided an update to its Vaccine Delivery Plan on Tuesday, detailing its plan to get shots into the arms of Saskatchewan’s general population.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said the province will take an “all hands on deck approach” to vaccinate as many people as possible.
MOVING TO PHASE 2
The government said Phase 2 of vaccine delivery will focus on the general population in 10-year increments, starting with people in their 60s and working down.
The second phase will include a targeted vaccination campaign for adults and staff in group homes and shelters. This phase will also target “clinically extremely vulnerable adults”, which includes people who are undergoing certain cancer treatments, people with severe respiratory conditions, and those with a variety of other ailments.
No start date has been set for Phase 2. According to the province, it could start in April, but it is dependent on vaccine supply from Ottawa.
“We’re nowhere near our target goal in Phase 1, and that is primarily – almost exclusively – due to the fact that we haven’t received vaccine to deliver,” said Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone.
Officials said they just want to keep people informed about what the mass vaccination campaign will look like and get them ready for what is to come.
“I don’t think we can talk about vaccination enough,” said Livingstone. “We do need to prepare – just like we're preparing as an organization and with our partners – to be able to operationally deliver vaccine at a huge and enormous scale across this province.”
FOCUSING ON AGE
Merriman said he has heard from various groups lobbying to be prioritized within the Vaccine Delivery Plan, and while they all have valid points, he said the government wants to focus on age.
“What we're looking at right now is getting a large quantity of vaccines in a short amount of time. So the best way to distribute that, and get it across our province as fast as possible and as safe as possible, is to look at age categories – that's also where we've seen the attack rate of COVID,” said Merriman.
According to the province, age is the main risk factor when it comes to COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths as older people are more likely to have conditions that put them at risk.
People above the age of 60 account for nearly 90 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths in the province.
The general population will be able to get the vaccine through a variety of options, including mass immunization clinics, walk-in and drive-thru clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
The province said it has reached an agreement with the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan for the COVID-19 vaccine to be administered by pharmacists, in a similar fashion to the flu shot.
According to the government, there will be more than 226 COVID-19 vaccine clinics in 181 communities across the province. There will be 141 mass immunization clinics, 24 drive-thru clinics and 61 mobile clinics.
Livingstone said they will count on “non-traditional individuals” to help with all aspects of the vaccination campaign, so that health care professionals can focus on getting needles into arms.
“We're going draw on resources across the province. We may be tapping on local businesses or security services or other organizations that we know are willing to help us,” said Livingstone. “We've had a number of organizations from across this province reach out and say, "We're willing to help."
The province said up to 2,200 people will be involved in delivering vaccines in the second phase.
Officials repeatedly emphasized that the rollout of Phase 2 depends on the vaccine supply from Ottawa.
“It’s completely out of our hands,” said Merriman. “When the vaccines actually start flowing will determine the ‘when.’”
Saskatchewan expected to receive more than 190,000 doses in the first quarter of 2021. Those shots were supposed to be used to vaccinate the priority population identified in Phase 1.
According to the government’s Vaccine Delivery Plan outlined on Dec. 9, the province identified 180,000 to 185,000 people in priority populations it aimed to immunize in the first phase, which started in December.
The province said with the current allotment, it will be able to fully vaccinate less than half of the Phase 1 priority population. As of Feb. 9, the province has fully vaccinated 9,075 people. Due to a manufacturing slowdown, the federal government was forced to delay Pfizer shipments to the provinces in January. Saskatchewan anticipates it will be short more than 13,000 Pfizer and Moderna doses.
Health Canada has not confirmed vaccine allocations for provinces past the end of March.
On Tuesday, Health Canada approved a label change for the Pfizer vaccine, which instructs immunizers to draw six doses from a vial instead of five.
Derek Miller, executive director of infrastructure management for the SHA, said health care workers in Saskatchewan are getting the sixth dose out of a vial about 10 to 20 per cent of the time. He added that the province is working to procure the special syringe needed to draw out the sixth dose.
Merriman said the province has treated the sixth dose as the benefit, not the norm, and expecting immunizers to always pull a sixth dose could cause complications.
“Now with the sixth dose and not being consistent all of the time, it's going to create some challenges as far as scheduling and as far as how many doses we can administer in a day,” said Merriman.
HOW TO BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
The province said it will keep people informed of when it is their time to be vaccinated, how to register for an appointment and how to find a clinic through various means of communication, including social media campaigns, direct mail, posters and press conferences.
Those eligible for vaccinations in Phase 1 will continue to be contacted directly.
An online scheduling system and toll-free phone line are expected to be operational in March for Phase 2.
Livingstone said he does not want people to worry if they think they missed their window to be vaccinated.
"The thing that's most important to is, if they miss it somehow – they don't miss it. They're always eligible to receive a vaccine,” said Livingstone. “We want to get those people because they are our highest priority, with respect to the vulnerable population, we want to get them vaccinated as quickly as possible.”