'We have to pick and choose': Sask. health minister explains vaccine rollout decisions
SASKATOON -- Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman joined CTV Morning Live’s Mike Ciona to talk about the province’s vaccine rollout plan and the decision to deliver doses based on age. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us why the move to age as the primary determinant?
The main reason to get to age is, we looked at what other provinces were doing. And we also figured if we're going to get a large amount of vaccines in a short amount of time, the best way to get those out the fastest to the most people is doing it by age group.
We did healthcare workers right at the beginning. They were the first ones in our province to be able to get the vaccines. But the age categories are just a way that we can strictly, get some volume out there, and also target the people that are being impacted by COVID.
You said health care workers - there seem to be some questions surrounding which healthcare workers qualify to get vaccinated now. I'm hearing for example that nurses in the maternity ward at the Jim Pattison Children's Hospital are facing COVID cases in their unit, but haven't been offered the vaccine. How was that decision made? How do we determine where that line of need is set?
First and foremost we went into our long-term care facilities and we did staff there which are also considered health care workers and obviously (we vaccinated) residents. Then we went into the COVID wards in the major hospitals in Saskatoon. Anybody that we consider (to be) forward-facing COVID patients would be considered a priority now. We also worked with the different associations to be able to talk to them, what are the priorities within theirs because we do have a limited amount of vaccines, and unfortunately we have to pick and choose right now.
And that's the important part I think to consider … There's other first responders that are chiming in. Our police chief in Saskatoon has said he would decline the vaccine if offered based on age alone. How do you balance that demand and everybody has a great point, it seems, but how do you balance that demand against the supply?
I understand there are lots of valid points in this, there are nurses, teachers have talked to us, police, first responders. Unfortunately we have such a limited supply of vaccine, we only got under 2,000 vaccines in the whole province last week. So we have to allocate those exactly where they are needed the most that's in our COVID wards and our long-term care facilities where we've had the highest rate of fatalities. We're in and around 80 per cent of the people that have died in Saskatchewan are above that age of 60.
Where are we in terms of timelines? Do you have an update on when we might shift into phase two?
Right now we've got about 50,000 vaccines in arms. Now that's not 50,000 individuals because some of them have got one dose some of them have got two doses. Our priority one phase one is about 400,000 doses. That's 200,000 individuals, that gets us through phase one into phase two, so we're looking at I would guess sometime in late, mid to late April, if everything is delivered as committed by the federal government.
Do you think it's realistic to expect that everyone in the province will have the vaccine made available to them before September?
That's what the federal government has said and anybody that, again, wants to get the vaccine, the federal government saying that they should have access to it by September. Our numbers are condensing down. We were promised, you know, six million across the country for the first quarter and we've only received about 30 per cent of that so now we've got the last half of the first quarter we've got to jam through 70 per cent if all those vaccines arrive and that's why we've got to start looking at volume.
And what kind of logistics do we have to prepare for and get in place if it does come, and all of a sudden the floodgates open?
When we get the right amount of vaccines in, we're going to be contacting individuals by phone, by email, through mass media, through social media to let them know that their time is available, and that they can come in and get their vaccine. So we're going to communicate as much as we possibly can to those individuals. Lots of people are calling in and asking when is my time. We want to be able to make sure that they know that and if they miss their time and it comes into the next category, they're still eligible to be able to get that vaccine.
Now it sounds like patience then is in fact a virtue when it comes to the next couple of months. How important is it for people to continue to follow the health regulations and not get complacent here?
You know it's extremely important. We've seen a great trend in the last seven days of our members coming down across the province and actually across the country. This means that people are adhering to the COVID guidelines and the restrictions that Dr. Shahab has put out. This is extremely important - washing the hands, social distancing, the masks, keeping to your household, and to your work bubbles. It's critical because it takes one or two cases and it can spread very quickly throughout a workplace or throughout a community.