“If we’re targeting everybody, then we’re targeting no one.”
The Saskatchewan NDP once again took aim at the exclusion of essential workers from the province’s vaccine priority groups Saturday, this time with the support of hundreds of doctors. But the province has refused to budge from its age-based plan.
On Friday, a letter signed by 285 physicians from across the province was sent to Premier Scott Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman. It called for the tighter restrictions in Regina to be implemented across the province and for all health care and essential workers to be prioritized for vaccines.
The NDP mirrored these calls during Question Period on a rare Saturday sitting of the Legislative Assembly. Opposition Leader Ryan Meili and NDP health critic Vicki Mowat questioned the province’s age-based plan while Moe and Merriman staunchly defended it, with audible yelling from the opposite side of the room as each spoke.
Merriman made clear the provincial government has no intention of deviating from its age-based rollout and emphasized speed remains the primary concern.
“If we’re targeting everybody, then we’re targeting no one. Then we’re going in and we’re micro-targeting every group because all the organizations will come and say, ‘We want to be done first,’” Merriman told reporters after Question Period, adding he has read and considered the letter signed by physicians.
“We want to make sure that we don’t slow down that process, and by pulling out certain groups, that will slow down the process.”
But Meili rejected the idea that prioritizing groups would hinder the rate of delivery.
“We can do a targeted vaccine rollout and still be speedy. The reason we’re doing it so fast is because (health care workers) are lining up like crazy to help out,” he told reporters.
Now that Saskatchewan’s most elderly and vulnerable populations — such as long-term care home residents — are vaccinated, Meili said vaccines need to go to those who are most likely to get COVID-19 and then pass it on to others.
This requires more targeted vaccinations, he said. Meili also noted it is the frontline workers administering vaccines that are pointing out the delivery plan isn’t working.
“They’re trying to beat this with a club when it really takes a scalpel,” he said of the Saskatchewan Party’s approach.
Ongoing challenges with the number of vaccines arriving in the province and delays in vaccine shipments have also presented delivery issues.
In the last three week, 30,000 booked appointments have had to be rescheduled because of shipment delays, Merriman said. The province currently has 60,000 vaccines, but if it continues to deliver them at a rate of 12,000 per day as was the case on Saturday, that supply will last just five days.
With this in mind, Merriman said the physicians’ calls have to be balanced with the province’s own challenges.
“I understand that there are concerns, but if we can say that in five weeks we can get to everybody in the province, I think that’s a very successful timeline,” he said.
The vaccine delivery debate was sparked by the same reason the Legislative Assembly was even sitting on a Saturday in the first place: COVID-19.
Saturday marked the first time since 1991 that the Legislative Assembly has sat on a Saturday, making it only the 44th time in the Saskatchewan Legislature’s history MLAs have gathered on the day.
Because the session was delayed by a month and Regina’s restrictions discourage travel in and out of the area, both sides of the Assembly agreed to sit five days a week instead of the usual four.
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