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'We are not normal': Expert says despite improving COVID-19 trends, Sask. must be on guard

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A University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist says although the latest COVID-19 numbers are promising, the pandemic is not over in Saskatchewan.

“It’s a challenging time,” Nazeem Muhajarine said.

“We want to think we are in a normal situation, but we are not normal. We are not in a pre-March 2020 situation at all right now. We have a once-in-a-century pandemic, COVID-19, that is still with us.”

Muhajarine said the virus is predictable at this stage. He remains cautiously optimistic about the decreases shown in this week’s Community Respiratory Illness Surveillance Program (CRISP) report, particularly the decrease in deaths.

There were 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in Saskatchewan’s latest bi-weekly report on Thursday.

“I like to see that. I think it is a noticeable statistic,” he said.

“But I’d like to see another report, the next report actually, going in the same direction.”

More than 100 deaths in Saskatchewan have been linked to COVID-19 since the start of the year.

Muhajarine said he’d like to hear more public awareness about vaccine availability from the provincial government.

The uptake on COVID-19 vaccine booster doses continues to lag, according to the latest CRISP report, with only 21 per cent of people 12 and older having received a bivalent booster dose and less than half of people 50 and over (47 per cent) with more than one COVID-19 booster dose.

In an interview with CTV News last week, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer reiterated the importance of vaccinations – specifically the Bivalent booster.

“Vaccines remain available, so I really encourage people who haven’t even gotten their first booster or their Bivalent booster in the fall, or even their initial two shots to go and get vaccinated,” Shahab said.

When speaking to reporters this week, Premier Scott Moe said while he "certainly" wished uptake was higher, people in the province "have to make their own decisions on the vaccines."

The Government of Saskatchewan’s website says the Bivalent booster is expected to provide increased protection against the Omicron variant.

In Saskatchewan, everyone aged five and older is eligible for their first Bivalent shot. Due to guidelines from the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations, only a small group of people are eligible for a second Bivalent booster.

Dr. Shahab said people who can get the second shot are those 80 and older, those living in long-term care homes or other congregate settings, those who are immunosuppressed or those aged 65-79 who have not had COVID-19 in the last six months.

“That’s based on the evidence that as more of us have gotten vaccinated or have been exposed to COVID-19, our individual and overall immunity has gone up,” Shahab said.

Dr. Shahab said COVID-19 vaccine guidelines could be revisited in the fall.

-With files from CTV News Regina's Drew Postey and David Prisciak

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