4th wave still possible in Saskatchewan if vaccine effort continues to stall: experts

Saskatchewan hit its vaccination target of 70 per cent of all those eligible receiving their first dose in late June. Since then, that percentage has remained in the low 70s, leaving infectious disease experts concerned it won’t be enough to protect the province from the more contagious delta variant.

The vaccination rate for first doses has slowed in recent weeks. On July 19, the province administered 461 new first doses. One month before, on June 19, 3,410 people were vaccinated with their first dose.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) says there are more than 70,000 appointments available to be booked for first and second doses. 

Dr. Joseph Blondeau is the head clinical microbiologist at the SHA. He said vaccination rates need to grow to avoid a potential fourth wave in the province.

“We know from data that has come out of Europe and also from out of the United States now that the variants are spreading in either the unvaccinated population and also, to a certain degree, in the population where individuals have only completed one of their two vaccine doses,” Blondeau said.

“So clearly, the message has to be that vaccination is important to continue to control this pandemic and ultimately get past it.”

Jerry Sopatyk receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Saskatoon Tribal Council run vaccination clinic inside SaskTel centre in Saskatoon, Sask., on April 15, 2021. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press)

80%-plus full vaccination rate needed: SHA

About 74 per cent of Saskatchewan residents 12 and older have received their first dose, with about 59 per cent fully vaccinated.

Dr. Cory Neudorf, senior medical health officer at the SHA, said 80 per cent or more of the population being fully vaccinated is what it’s going to take to avoid a pandemic resurgence.

Caroline Colijn, a mathematician who specializes in infectious diseases at Simon Fraser University, said it’s a challenge to increase vaccinations, because most people who were keen on getting vaccinated have already done so.

“As we vaccinate all those people who are really clamouring for vaccines, we move into the time when we’re trying to reach people who are a bit more hesitant,” Colijn said.

Vaccine passports could boost vaccine uptake: expert

Dr. Anand Kumar is an intensive care physician and infectious disease specialist in Manitoba. He predicted that the more virulent delta variant, combined with Saskatchewan dropping all of its public restrictions on July 11, will cause COVID cases to “accelerate through the rest of the summer and then really explode once the schools open and people move indoors.”

He said the way to avoid that scenario is the province doubling down on its vaccination efforts, and requiring vaccine mandates in schools and vaccine passports for public gatherings.

Premier Scott Moe has said that the province won’t require proof of vaccination in order for people to work or attend events, citing privacy concerns.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe tours a COVID-19 mass immunization clinic and drive-thru immunization space at International Trade Centre in Regina on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

In a statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Health issued a reminder to Saskatchewan residents that more than 80 per cent of the new COVID cases reported in June were in unvaccinated patients. 

“The Ministry of Health continues to encourage vaccination through various campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, SnapChat, television, radio and prints ads, including the Stick it to COVID campaign,” the ministry said.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Sask. Opposition NDP leader Ryan Meili said the province needs to do more to jump-start the vaccination effort.

He said Saskatchewan should require proof of vaccination for big events such as Roughriders games.

“It is absolutely time for this government to step up, bring in incentives. Let’s talk about that lottery program that’s now in Alberta, in Manitoba and Quebec and places all over the world,” Meili said. 

Colijn said it’s important for the government and health officials to make vaccines more accessible to people through more pop-up clinics, and going door-to-door in apartment buildings and workplaces.

“It is harder to reach the last chunk of the population, the last people, the more hesitant,” Colijn said. “But that’s work that we need to do and it’s going to be easier than managing another wave of COVID.”

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