A senior health official in western Canada has made an emotional plea for people to get vaccinated against coronavirus and observe social distancing recommendations, highlighting the grief and frustration felt by health workers in a country where Covid deaths continue despite the availability of vaccines.
Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer, Dr Saqib Shahab, was brought to tears during a briefing on Wednesday, as he presented new data showing the continuing pressure on the province’s hospitals and intensive care units.
“All the evidence is out there. And it’s very distressing to see very young, unvaccinated people ending up in ICU and dying,” he said. “To see young lives lost through a vaccine-preventable disease – how can we see this in a country where we’ve had vaccines available since July?”
Saskatchewan has the highest weekly death rate in Canada – and the situation has become so dire that the province has started transferring patients thousands of kilometres away to Ontario – where active cases are 10 times lower per capita.
The vast majority of those in ICUs are unvaccinated, according to public health officials.
Tearing up during the teleconference, Dr Shahab said the recent months had been “a very challenging time”. He apologized for the show of emotion – but has since been met with widespread support from colleagues and provincial officials.
“Premier [Scott] Moe continues to hold the highest regard for Dr Shahab and the tireless work he continues to do for the people of Saskatchewan,” the premier’s office said in a statement.
Saskatchewan, with a population of nearly 1.2 million, has largely relied on vaccinations to bring down cases and ease the burden on hospitals. But waning interest from residents has made it difficult to blunt the spread of the virus.
“Our increase in vaccinations for first dose has slowed down, and we are increasing it by less than 1% a week,” said Shahab. “That is not fast enough to have an impact on the fourth wave.”
According to federal government figures, Saskatchewan has one of the lowest rates of fully vaccinated residents among those who qualify.
The province has a mask mandate for public indoor spaces. The most common sites of outbreaks are private gatherings and places of worship.