Challenges slow Saskatchewan COVID-19 vaccine roll out

Challenges of delivery to the north and a decreased vaccine supply from what was expected are two of the factors Saskatchewan is pointing to as reason for a slow roll out of their COVID-19 vaccination program.

During a COVID-19 update by the provincial government on January 6, Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said the logistics to delivering the vaccine to the priority area of Saskatchewan’s north has provided some challenges.

“Obviously northern Saskatchewan, there is logistical challenges up there. This isn’t where we can do 5,000 or a 1,000 people over a short amount of time. We have travelling that they have to do. We have our clinics up there and ready to go. So it is going to go slower in the north,” Merriman said on Wednesday.

Saskatchewan received its first batch of the Moderna vaccine this past week, and on Tuesday they began administrating the vaccines in northern Saskatchewan to priority targeted healthcare workers and long term care residents. Additionally, 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived Wednesday at Prince Albert’s Victoria Hospital.

“The first run of anything is going to be the one where we work out all of the turns and bumps in the road that we have with anything that we’re doing.”

Merriman further defended the vaccine rollout out totals, noting that overall numbers have been impacted by the hold back for Saskatchewan’s initial vaccine pilot project. He noted that both the Public Health Agency of Canada and the manufacturer had required the province to hold back the second dose of the Pfizer vaccines in the pilot project because of an uncertainty of the delivery of the vaccine. However, Saskatchewan will no longer be holding back vaccine doses for second shots because of a more certain supply of vaccine batches.

However, Merriman is concerned that Saskatchewan is not receiving the 11,000 weekly doses of the Pfizer vaccine which the federal government pledged back in December.

“That’s disappointing because that’s what we geared up for and that’s what we were ready for,” Merriman said.

“We are limited by the number of doses that we have received. We could get absolutely more vaccinations done more quickly, if and when the federal government provides us with more doses.”

Saskatchewan is currently expecting to receive 6,800 Pfizer doses weekly during the remainder of January, with another 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine arriving before the end of January.

“That’s a total of 30,000 doses expected in January. This is just simply not near enough, and it is significantly less they promised us just last month.”

The lower vaccine amounts are occurring while Saskatchewan is experiencing another spike in new COVID cases. Saskatchewan’s seven day average has spiked from 153 daily new cases (12.6 per 100,000 population) on December 30, the lowest since mid November, up to 254 new daily cases (20.9 per 100,000 population) on January 7. The province could surpass the single day high of 292 announced on December 12.

Saskatchewan had a total of 59 COVID-19 related deaths on December 6, and with 12 COVID-19 deaths over the past two days, the province has now recorded 177 COVID-19 deaths as of January 7. There have been 22 pandemic deaths during the first seven days of 2021.