Saskatchewan health officials say they are not recommending a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine for the general population at this time.
At the same time in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration approved a second booster for everyone over the age of 50 this week.
The province says its stance is consistent with current National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendations.
“I’m sure that there will be conversations probably underway as we speak about further expansion of vaccination across the province,” Everett Hindley, Saskatchewan’s minister of seniors and rural and remote health, told reporters at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday.
People, my opinion is either they’ve got their shot now or they’re working toward getting their shot or they’re choosing not to get a shot, which, in my opinion, is a mistake.– Health Minister Paul Merriman
In Saskatchewan, fourth shots are currently available for residents of long-term care, special care and personal care homes five months after their third dose.
Fourth shots are also available for immunocompromised individuals who fit the descriptions listed here three months after their first booster.
Based on eligibility, 475,372 individuals age 18 and older have received a third dose, and 20,113 individuals age 18 and older have received a fourth dose.
Dr. Dennis Kendel, a Saskatoon health policy expert and retired physician, says the province should bring in second boosters for the general population as soon as it can.
“There often is some delay between a decision by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.] and action in Canada,” he said, “so it’ll be interesting to see, province by province, how different provinces handle this. But I do hope in Saskatchewan we will offer a fourth dose to everyone, frankly.”
He says getting a fourth shot is beneficial.
“There is certainly evidence that it does offer significant protection against serious illness and reduces risk of hospitalization and certainly reduces risk of death … it’s not an absolute protection, but it certainly does protect against more devastating impact.”
Booster shot uptake is low
All individuals 12 and older are eligible for a booster dose at this time. However, booster shot acceptance has been low in Saskatchewan.
As of March 19, among the population 12 years and older, 47.7 per cent had received at least one booster compared with 47.5 per cent in the previous week. Among the population 18 years and older, 51.2 per cent had received at least one booster compared with 51.0 per cent in the previous week.
Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman told reporters at the Legislative Building on Monday that COVID-19 is still very much in communities, and residents should seriously consider getting their booster shots.
“People, my opinion is, either they’ve got their shot now or they’re working toward getting their shot or they’re choosing not to get a shot, which, in my opinion, is a mistake,” Merriman said.
He says he believes Saskatchewan residents believe they are protected with two shots, which they are to a certain extent.
“But as we’ve seen, the vaccine does wane over a few months and they should get their booster shot. It’s no different than when a child gets their initial round of shots at six months … you do get booster shots and those are just as important as the initial shot. And I would encourage everybody to get that shot.”
Merriman says COVID-19 isn’t the same threat it was in fall 2021, but it could still present severe symptoms in certain people.
Kendel says some people are likely not getting booster shots because of government messaging.
“I think, much too prematurely, we began to hear messages from our government leaders that essentially we needed to return to normal. Returning to normal seemed to imply just accepting the fact that a significant number of people might get COVID but that they wouldn’t be significantly harmed. And now we see that isn’t the case,” Kendel said.
“The death rate has been quite strikingly high.”
Kendel says the province is seeing just under five COVID- related deaths daily. Therefore, people need further protection against COVID-19.
He is also concerned that the Saskatchewan government and some residents don’t understand the severe effect the virus is having on people.
“I don’t know any other instance in our province’s history where we’ve actually accepted a preventable mortality rate this high and just sort of said, ‘Well, it happens.’ I mean, that seems very dismissive of human life,” Kendel said.
Not all who are dying are seniors, Kendall added, some are young as well.
“We’ve been almost programmed or conditioned to accept the inevitability of this, and that worries me even in terms of other infectious illnesses going forward,” he said. “Are we going to become more casual about getting the flu shots? Are we going to become more casual to — or even resistant to — childhood immunizations?”
On Monday the provincial government launched a public awareness campaign to encourage people who have had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine to get their booster dose to “greatly enhance protection.”
The province says the campaign will run for four weeks on a variety of media platforms including print, online, social media, billboards and radio.