REGINA -- While a finish line for the COVID-19 pandemic is not quite in sight, Saskatchewan’s Health Minister said a potential vaccine provides a clearer picture of how the province will continue to respond to the virus.

“The finish line is when we have delivered a safe, effective vaccine to a significant number of Saskatchewan residents,” Paul Merriman, the province's Health Minister, said. “That’s where life can truly start getting back to normal.”

Merriman said the SHA is expected to present its vaccine delivery plan sometime next week.

The Health Minister said the province is ready for the vaccine, as soon as the federal government is able to distribute it.

“We do not yet have an exact timeline on when we will be receiving these vaccines. The federal government is now saying the first deliveries will be early in the New Year,” Merriman said.

He added that Saskatchewan’s expected share of the first batch of Canadian vaccine doses remains around 180,000, which is enough to vaccinate 90,000 people. Merriman said that number could go up, as more companies apply for vaccine approval.

“This could result in more vaccines being delivered, even quicker when that occurs,” Merriman said.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, said approvals of additional vaccines will likely bolster supplies around the start of the second quarter of 2021.

“Certainly we expect to see an increase in supply towards the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second quarter, around March-April," Shahab said.

When a vaccine arrives, Merriman and Dr. Shahab are both optimistic about uptake among Saskatchewan people, due to the province’s high immunization rates.

“We vaccinate, over four to six weeks, more than a third of the population with influenza every year. This year we are ready to vaccinate half the population as a yearly program,” Shahab said. “We are fully equipped to be able to manage as many vaccines as we can.”

Shahab expects distribution of vaccines to be smooth as more become available.