Sask. NDP, SGEU continue to call on government to prioritize more frontline workers in COVID-19 vaccine plan
REGINA -- The Opposition NDP and the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) continue to call on the provincial government to prioritize more frontline workers in the COVID-19 vaccination strategy.
During a press conference on Tuesday, NDP Leader Ryan Meili asked the government to follow national guidelines for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) say seniors, healthcare workers and long-term care home staff and residents should be prioritized in Stage 1.
In Stage 2, NACI recommends people living in congregate settings (such as homeless shelters and correctional facilities), essential workers and healthcare workers not included in the first stage should be vaccinated.
On Monday, Health Minister Paul Merriman said the government isn’t able to follow the guidelines to a tee because of limited vaccine doses.
Meili said the health minister is choosing to not follow the guidelines.
“The number of vaccines doesn’t determine whether you follow the guidelines, it is a guideline for how you distribute the number of vaccines you have most effectively,” said Meili.
SGEU, which represents correctional workers in the province, is also calling on the province to include correctional officers and workers at young offender facilities.
Correctional staff were not included in the province’s recent change, which includes vaccinating first responders using mobile vaccine units and giving vaccine access to grocery store workers through pharmacy distribution.
According to the union, there are 57 COVID-positive inmates and 13 staff at the Regina Correctional Centre as of Wednesday, a dramatic increase from 18 inmates and five staff on April 8.
The union calls the government’s reluctance to target correctional staff a “dangerous decision that puts lives in jeopardy.”
“For months, we’ve been calling on the government to prioritize staff in these facilities because they are not able to work from home, and encounter potential high risk situations when they show up for work every day,” Barry Nowoselsky, an SGEU spokesperson, said in a release.
“It’s unacceptable that these requests have been ignored, especially as facilities continue to experience outbreaks of this deadly virus.”
During the province’s COIVD-19 update Tuesday, Merriman was asked if the government would revisit vaccinating corrections workers given the current outbreaks.
The minister replied that he is only aware of outbreaks in two correctional facilities in the province and that officials are making sure they are adhering to protocols, such as masking and cohorting.
He encouraged people working in corrections to get a vaccine if the meet the current criteria.
“It’s not that correction workers aren’t eligible. Right now if there’s a correction worker out there in the city of Regina that’s 49 I’d encourage them to go to the drive-thru and get vaccinated immediately. If somebody is over the age of 52 and wants to book into one of the clinics, I would encourage them to do that as well. So, it’s not that they’ve been excluded,” said Merriman.