REGINA — The Saskatchewan government has laid out its plan to begin immunizing critical health-care workers against COVID-19 starting next week.
"Vaccines are the finish line in this very long fight," Premier Scott Moe said Wednesday minutes after Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine.
Moe said Saskatchewan expects to receive 1,950 doses by Tuesday.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said that it will be a large undertaking, but added the province has put in place human and financial resources to successfully distribute the vaccine.
"When the vaccine will be ready, we will be ready," he said.
A pilot vaccination program is to take place at the Regina General Hospital for health-care workers in intensive and emergency care, as well as for those on COVID-19 units at Regina General and the Pasqua Hospital in Regina. Staff at testing and assessment centres are also to receive the vaccine.
People who get a shot are to receive a second dose 21 days later.
The province said the first official stage of the program is to begin in late December. Some 202,052 vaccine doses are expected to arrive within the first quarter of next year, and there are to be 10,725 weekly allocations.
More health-care workers, staff and residents in long-term care, seniors over 80 and people living in remote areas such as the far north, who are at least 50, are to get those injections.
The province said allocations of the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to receive Health Canada approval in coming weeks, are still being finalized.
Saskatchewan plans to move from vaccinating some of its most vulnerable residents to the general population beginning in April.
"Once mass immunization has occurred, we will all be able to get closer to our normal routines," chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said in a news release.
In the meantime, people must continue taking precautions and following public health advice, he said.
The province reported 302 new cases Wednesday and five additional COVID-19 deaths — all individuals in their 80s. There were 4,707 active cases and 140 people were in hospital, 27 of them in intensive care.
The government brought in restrictions at the end of November to curb surging infection rates. Shahab said new infections remain too high. The five-day test positivity rate is 8.5 per cent.
Health officials said there are still challenges in how widespread vaccine distribution will work, including to rural and remote communities. The Pfizer vaccine cannot be further transported once it's delivered to a specific location. And both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require specific cold storage.
The province is planning to have the vaccine distributed within care homes and hospitals during the first phase. Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the province will rely on pre-existing vaccination structures and pharmacies once inoculations are to be made more widely.
The Saskatchewan Party government has said getting a COVID-19 vaccination will not be mandatory, but it plans to roll out an ad campaign this month talking about immunizations.
Moe said it is people's job to get the vaccine when it is their turn.
"We all need to get vaccinated to keep ourselves and keep others safe."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2020
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg