REGINA — Saskatchewan is opening up COVID-19 booster shots to more of its population.
Health-care workers and residents who are 50 years or older are now eligible for a third dose, as is anyone 18 and older living in the far north or in First Nations communities.
People born in 2009 or earlier with underlying health conditions, including anyone with diabetes, also qualify for a booster.
The province has also reduced the time between the second and third doses to five months from six months.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, said the decision to reduce the interval is based on local epidemiology.
"As people are nearing their five months, although small, we're seeing a definite signal of increase in breakthrough cases, mostly mild, but a few unfortunately resulting in hospitalizations," he said Tuesday.
He said there are few breakthrough cases in people under 50, but the province will expand booster eligibility for all eligible adults who are over the age of 18 by early January.
Saskatchewan reported 47 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the majority of them in unvaccinated people.
Latest data from the Ministry of Health shows there are 1.7 breakthrough cases per 100,000 vaccinated people compared with 11.4 cases per 100,000 unvaccinated people.
Shahab said he hopes as many people as possible take advantage of the booster shots as they target an important demographic.
"We hope that this will allow many people, who are still in some ways protected from COVID with the two doses, to boost their immunity and further reduce the risk of mild illness," he said. "But most importantly (prevent) breakthrough cases that can result in serious outcomes like hospitalization."
Shahab said about 510,000 residents are eligible for their booster shots.
Before the expanded eligibility, boosters were mostly limited to people 65 and older and to people 50 or older if they lived in First Nations communities or in the far north.
Shahab said there was about a 65 per cent uptake in boosters in those groups. Many booked appointments two to three weeks after they were eligible, he added.
Derek Miller, chief of emergency operations with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said about 33,000 appointments are available for booster shots.
"We have enough vaccines and we also have the operational capacity to deliver," Shahab said. "So based on that ... we are very well placed now to give booster doses as announced today at five months following your second dose."
People who have received a third dose due to a suppressed immune system or for travel purposes don't need another booster shot, health officials said. Neither do those who received Johnson & Johnson's single-dose shot.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2021
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press