Saskatchewan is expanding its line of pop-up clinics in order to get more people, particularly youth and people in some under-vaccinated neighbourhoods, inoculated with their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The province's reopening plan requires 70 per cent of eligible Saskatchewan residents to have received their first dose before the final remaining public health measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 — including the mandatory mask order — are lifted, which is expected to happen in July.
Currently, everyone in the province 12 and older is eligible for a vaccine.
As of Tuesday, 67 per cent of people within that group were partially vaccinated, an increase of only two percentage points from a week prior.
"Our target over this coming week is to really drive that number up and help Saskatchewan cross the line to achieve [our] Step 3 opening target," said Derek Miller, the Saskatchewan Health Authority's emergency operations centre lead.
But Miller cautioned that Saskatchewan — which currently trails other provinces in terms of first-dose uptake among the total population — ultimately still wants to first- and second-dose vaccination rates to go past 70 per cent and even to 80 per cent and beyond among eligible people.
"This is so critical for us," Miller said. "We [need] to mitigate the risk of any potential [coronavirus] variants."
18 new cases of delta variant found
On Tuesday, Saskatchewan health officials announced the single largest daily bump in cases of the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant, first identified in India — also known as the B.1.617.2 variant.
The province's delta caseload increased to 67, up from 49 on Monday.
Studies out of the United Kingdom, where the delta variant has driven a surge of new cases, show only about a third of people are protected against symptomatic cases of the variant after a single vaccine shot.
Both the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccines are estimated to be 92 to 96 per cent effective against hospitalization after two doses.
Premier Scott Moe was asked Tuesday why Saskatchewan is focused on stepping up first-dose efforts, and why the province's reopening strategy remains pegged to first-dose vaccination targets, given that people appear to be more protected against the delta variant with two doses.
"We're still very focused on the second doses," Moe said.
The premier went on to mention one of the steps the health authority is taking to speed up first-dose uptake — fast-pass lanes in drive-thrus — and said "all of those second doses are still occurring throughout the course of that day."
Moe also defend the province's second-dose rate. As of Tuesday, Saskatchewan was second among provinces, with 18.5 per cent of its total population fully vaccinated.
Details on 1st-dose popup clinics
Information on the location of first-dose clinics, which are set to begin launching in some communities on Wednesday, can be found here.
Clinics will take place inside malls, big-box stores, workplaces and places where youth hang out.
Schools where clinics are currently focused on students will open up to families, the health authority's Miller added.