Sask. health officials working on strategies to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake
REGINA -- As Saskatchewan’s first dose rollout begins to stall, the province needs to shake up its COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan, according to public health experts.
"We’re in a situation now where we obviously need to start asking questions and examining data and figuring out who the groups are…who are not going for their first doses," said Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease physician in Regina.
Dr. Wong said the drive-thru clinics provided easy access for people with vehicles and the means to wait in line for hours, but they aren’t reaching everyone, which is contributing to the plateauing first dose delivery.
"We all need to understand ways that we can make (the) vaccine easier and more accessible," he said. "We've already hit the enthusiastic crowd and now, I don't think a lot of those individuals are against vaccine or not wanting to get vaccinated, but they're just not necessarily going to go really out of their way to get it."
Saskatchewan started the month of May with the second highest vaccine uptake among Canada’s ten provinces at slightly more than 39 per cent.
Other provinces have sprinted past Saskatchewan in recent weeks as the province has dropped to eighth at 68.7 per cent, which is ahead of Alberta and Prince Edward Island.
Dr. Cory Neudorf, an epidemiology and community health professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said people want easier access and more information about the vaccines.
"A lot more access in more smaller pop-up sites or well advertised sites where people are and the coverage rates are lower," he said.
In an effort to provide more information, the Ministry of Health has sent letters to about 182,000 households with one or more residents eligible to receive the shot, but who haven’t been immunized.
"This is part of our existing vaccine uptake strategy and is part of our ongoing campaign to ensure all residents are aware that they are eligible and provides information on locating clinics in the province," the ministry said in a statement.
Dr. Neudorf said people still have questions about vaccine safety and providing answers to those questions needs to be a priority.
"It’s really about finding out what those barriers are for the specific individuals and doing what we can to both improve availability and access, as well as answer those questions that people have," he said.
Dr. Wong reached out to Saskatchewan residents on Twitter to find out what is and isn’t working with the province’s vaccine rollout.
He said he’s passed those suggestions over to his colleagues leading the delivery plan.
"New strategies are needed, like mobile clinics, bringing clinics into workplaces, schools and other sort of community settings and then the big thing is hours like expanding hours, so that people can come in after work, and expanding hours to midnight to allow for shift workers," Dr. Wong said.
While first dose uptake is lagging in Saskatchewan, the province is leading the country now when it comes to percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated at just over 15 per cent.
Saskatchewan moved up eligibility for second doses on Friday, making it so everyone in the province can book a second shot by June 24.