As Omicron spreads across Canada, Sask. NDP calls for expansion to COVID-19 booster shots
Official Opposition Leader Ryan Meili is calling for a plan to expand availability of COVID-19 booster shots for Saskatchewan residents 18 and over as the Omicron variant spreads across the country.
“With this new variant and a fifth wave on the horizon, now is the time to be proactive. The (Saskatchewan Health Authority) has already warned that it's not a matter of if but a matter of when Saskatchewan will go through a fifth wave,” Meili said in a news release.
"This government has so far refused to learn from the previous waves, instead choosing to play politics and pander instead of listening to the advice of experts. We can’t afford to let the Sask. Party get this wrong again.”
The NDP’s demand comes the same day as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended adults over 50 be offered COVID-19 boosters, while those aged 18 to 49 “may” be offered boosters based on individual risks and where they live.
This updated advice comes after the federal government requested on Tuesday that NACI “quickly” review its guidance on prioritizing COVID-19 booster shots in light of concerns over the Omicron variant.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Canada has reported seven confirmed cases of the Omicron variant and has since banned travel into the country from a host of African nations, including South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt.
The cases were in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
While it remains unclear just how transmissible and severe infection by the variant B.1.1.529 might be, because Omicron is highly mutated health officials have expressed concerns that it may be more vaccine-resistant.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, provinces and territories are responsible for deciding their vaccine rollout eligibility strategies and whether or not to follow NACI’s recommendations.
According to the Sask. NDP, Thursday night’s physician’s town hall relayed that when it came to a fifth wave, it was not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when.”
The SHA has identified three factors in the scale and timing of the fifth wave:
- the rate of waning immunity
- population behaviour (as it relates to social gatherings and mixing)
- the unknown impact of the Omicron variant.
“We’re just coming out of the deadliest fourth wave in the country. Our healthcare system has still not recovered. There are patients in desperate need of life-saving surgeries and we won’t be able to get through the backlog if Saskatchewan sees skyrocketing hospitalizations, as we did during the last wave,” Meili said.
“Expanding third dose availability is key to keeping the fifth wave under control.”
Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said Monday that officials in the province are keeping a close watch on developments around Omicron.
Merriman said the best defense against COVID-19 and its variants is to get fully vaccinated.
Currently, health care workers, those who are immunocompromised and people aged 65 and older can get their booster shot. People 50 and older in the Far North and living on First Nations are also eligible.
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said Wednesday that eligibility could open up for more people in the coming days and weeks.
With files from Rachel Aiello and Ben Cousins.