Learn more about COVID-19 in Saskatchewan:

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COVID-19 Vaccine Question and Answer

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1. COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery

Will you be making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory?
No. Saskatchewan's immunization programs are voluntary. We have seen a high up-take for immunizations like the childhood immunization program. Saskatchewan coverage rate for two doses of measles for children five years of age is 90.5% as of March 2020.

Will the vaccine be mandatory for health care workers?
No. There are no mandatory vaccinations in Saskatchewan. Even with health care workers prioritized for the vaccine, the continual masking policy and additional measures to protect staff from transmission will remain in place in all health care facilities for the foreseeable future due to the staged roll out of the vaccine for all Canadians.

Which vaccines are arriving in Saskatchewan and when?
Pfizer received Health Canada approval and the first doses arrived in Saskatchewan on Dec. 15. These vaccines were administered to health care workers in Regina. The first part of Phase 1 of the delivery plan began the week of December 21 with health care workers in Saskatoon.

Following Health Canada approval on December 23, Moderna vaccines began arriving in the province in late December and are being allocated first to rural and remote areas. As additional manufacturers receive the required approval, we anticipate receiving their vaccines later in the first quarter of 2021.

Phase 1 of the delivery plan includes priority/at-risk populations and will proceed as vaccines are delivered to Saskatchewan.

How quickly will Saskatchewan residents be vaccinated?
Shipments of vaccine are expected to arrive weekly and in limited numbers; therefore, it will be several months before the entire population will be able to receive the vaccine. It will continue to be very important for all residents to continue following public health measures while the vaccination program is delivered.

Who decided what the priority groups would be?
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization provided federal and provincial health agencies with recommendations on key populations for early COVID-19 immunization. They identified those at high risk of severe illness and death such as people with advanced age as well as workers essential to maintaining the COVID-19 response such as health care workers.

Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for delivering vaccination programs. Each will make their decisions based on these recommendations and the transmission seen in their individual jurisdictions.

Which groups will receive the vaccine first in Saskatchewan?
The first phase of Saskatchewan's vaccine delivery plan focuses on priority populations who are at a higher risk of exposure to the virus or more at risk of serious illness - health care workers, elderly residents in care homes, seniors over 80 and residents in northern remote communities. Immunization will occur as vaccine is delivered to the province.

How will you deliver the ultra-cold vaccine in rural and remote communities?
Because of the logistical requirements of the Pfizer vaccine, we will initially be delivering it to urban centres that have ultra-cold refrigeration available. The Moderna vaccine can be stored in regular temperature freezers and will be used in smaller and rural centres.

Do you have the public health resources to deliver a vaccination program?
Saskatchewan public health has delivered public immunizations for influenza for years, including a mass immunization program for H1N1. While public health staff will be required to deliver the vaccine, there are many other health care providers involved in the delivery of mass vaccination programs. We are likely to be utilizing other public service resources to assist.

Will you be delivering the vaccine in-community or will residents be required to travel?
Depending on the area in the province and the type of vaccine they have received, vaccine may be offered in hospitals, public health clinics, long term care facilities and personal care home, or through mass immunization clinics.

Will pharmacies be delivering COVID-19 vaccinations?
This will be considered when vaccine supply and delivery logistics allow. This is likely occur in 2021.

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2. General

How does the vaccine protect against COVID-19?
mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response without using the live virus that causes COVID-19. Once triggered, our body then makes antibodies. These antibodies help us fight the infection if the real virus does enter our body in the future. The vaccine is given as a needle in the upper arm. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will require two doses.

Who should get the vaccine?
Based on the clinical trials and the approval by Health Canada, the Pfizer vaccine can be used for anyone 16 years of age and over and the Moderna vaccine can be used for anyone 18 years of age and over. The vaccines should not be given to people who are allergic to any of the vaccine ingredients, including polyethylene glycol. Pregnant women and people with conditions that affect their immune system should consult their health care provider. Saskatchewan opened up eligibility to this group April 13, 2021. Even if you have already had a COVID-19 infection, you should still receive the vaccine once you have recovered.

What does it mean that a vaccine is "95% effective"?
Vaccine efficacy means how well the vaccine works or its ability to prevent the illness during clinical trials. Vaccine efficacy of 95% indicates a 95% reduction in disease occurrence among the vaccinated group.

Are there any groups who cannot tolerate/receive the vaccine at all?
At this time we know that the vaccine has not been studied in pregnant and breastfeeding women and younger children; talk to a health care provider if you are pregnant/breastfeeding. Saskatchewan opened up eligibility to pregnant women April 13, 2021. It may not be suitable for people allergic to polyethylene glycol, which is an ingredient of vaccine. People with conditions that affect their immune system should consult their health care provider. We expect to receive more detailed information from the vaccine manufacturers and Health Canada as soon as it's available.

What are the expected side effects?
There might be some mild symptoms a day or two after receiving the vaccine. The most common side effects are localized pain or redness or swelling at the injection site. Other symptoms may include mild fever, chills, headache, joint or muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, enlarged lymph nodes under the arm, or feeling tired. As with all vaccines, there's a chance that there will be a serious side effect, but these are rare. A serious side effect might be something like an allergic reaction.

All residents will be asked to report any adverse or unexpected reactions to your local public health nurse, a pharmacist, doctor, or nurse practitioner as soon as possible.

Do you receive some protection from just one dose of the two-dose vaccines?
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has updated its recommendation on the interval between the first and second doses of authorized COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca/Covishield). Based on evidence NACI's expertise in vaccine science, they are recommending to maximize the number of people benefiting from the first dose by extending the interval between the first and second dose up to four months.

Beginning March 5, all vaccines administered in Saskatchewan will be a first dose, with second doses administered at an interval of up to four months. Residents will be contacted when they are eligible to book their second dose appointment, based on completing the vaccination sequencing and supply.

This delayed second dose strategy does not apply to long-term care and personal care residents and staff who have yet to receive their full two-dose series or to any existing second-dose appointments.

All residents who receive their first dose will still be eligible to receive their second dose when the supply is available. We are currently not booking 2nd dose appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine for all other individuals. Please keep your vaccine card and watch for further updates about 2nd dose appointments.

Please note that it is important to continue to follow all public health measures until Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer indicates any changes to restrictions. Even if you have received the vaccine, you must still socially distance, wash your hands and follow all mandatory masking protocols.

If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated for COVID-19 when the vaccine is available?

Current evidence suggests reinfection is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection, thus it is recommended that persons with documented acute infection in the preceding 90 days should defer vaccination until the end of this period with the exception of residents in long term care or personal care homes or those 80 years and over living in the community.

Do I need to wear a mask and avoid close contact with others once I have received two doses of the vaccine?
Yes. While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important to continue using all the public health protection tools available to help stop this pandemic, like wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently and maintaining physical distancing.

Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision.

How quickly will you see an impact from vaccinations?
Vaccination prioritization will offer protection to those who are experiencing the most severe forms of the illness and death. While these first few thousand doses every few weeks will not have an overall impact on community transmission, we hope to see a decline in the most severe cases in our ICUs presently.

We will need to abide by public health measures to continue to bring those transmission rates down. We still must do our part to ease pressure on acute care and public health.

Once you have all long term care and personal care home residents vaccinated, will you be able to lift all the visitation restrictions? Remove cohorting?
This will be considered as vaccination is delivered based on what we are observing. While vaccine will protect those residents, it does not stop COVID-19 transmission in the community.

Once the most vulnerable and health care workers are vaccinated in February/March, will you begin lifting measures?
We will not see vaccine available for the general population likely until the middle of 2021 so public health measures will remain in place. Those public health measures may be increased or decreased, depending on the rates of transmission through the pandemic event.

How will you counter vaccine misinformation?
All health care organizations acknowledge the challenge of misinformation during the pandemic. The federal, provincial and territorial health agencies will be sharing safety information. Campaigns will continue to point Canadians to reliable, science-based information on COVID-19 and the vaccines.

What kind of vaccine am I getting?
All of the vaccines being administered are safe and approved by Health Canada for use. All of them are important to help protect the public from severe illness and death from COVID-19. The booking agents do not have access to information about the kind of vaccine you’re getting, and the brand you receive is subject to change, based on available supplies.

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3. SHA Patient Booking System

Who can use the booking system?
The patient booking system will be available to all citizens with internet access, including those living in border communities and those without Saskatchewan health cards, like new immigrants to our province.

What information do patients need in order to book an appointment in the online system?
Patients will be required to have a health card from any province, as well as a cell phone and/or valid email address, while also confirming their eligibility by using their birth date. Identification is also required when the appointment takes place, to ensure we are immunizing the same person that was registered to receive it. Patients will need their health card and immunization card if they've received their 1st dose.

What if I don't have a health card?
Users without a health card, or those requiring extra assistance are encouraged to use the telephone option to book their appointment.

Where do patients go to access the system and book their online appointment?
The tool can be accessed directly from the Saskatchewan.ca website at Saskatchewan.ca/covid19-vaccine or from saskhealthauthority.ca.

What about patients who don't use or have access to the internet?
Users who aren't comfortable with, or don't have access to technology can book by phone. Family and friends who aren't yet eligible can also book on behalf of someone who is eligible, either online or by phone.

The system is designed to verify a person's eligibility as their appointment is booked. Identification is also required at the time of the actual appointment.

How will I know when new age groups are eligible to book appointments?
Go to Saskatchewan.ca/covid19-vaccine. There is a launch button there to take you directly to the appointment booking. It will also say what age groups are currently eligible for booking appointments. The age groups eligible for booking vaccinations will also be in the daily government COVID news releases and in public service announcements.

How does the booking system protect patient privacy and data?
Protecting patient privacy was a paramount consideration when selecting a vendor for the booking system. The selected vendor meets all Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) security standards, policies and controls. Data is stored securely in Canadian data centres and is subject to Canadian data security laws.

Can the booking system be used for appointments other than the COVID vaccine?
The booking system will initially be used to book COVID vaccine appointments only.

What will patients be able to book online for in the future?
In the future, we may consider adding online booking for things like COVID testing, immunization clinics, laboratory services, and other identified services such as mental health and addictions. But initial the sole focus will be on COVID vaccine booking.

Why are you investing in this solution now?
The SHA is investing now to provide Saskatchewan with a modernized, patient-centred scheduling solution to support the immediate and urgent need for scheduling patient appointments. It is important that patients are kept at a safe social distance, staff have time to perform cleaning protocols, and patients have access to services in a convenient way.

Can I book into a pharmacy or physician's office by using this site?
Not at this time.

Will SHA still be contacting patients directly as they become eligible to receive the vaccine?
Once the online booking system is operational, we will be phasing out the existing process of direct phone-calls to eligible individuals. Eligible patients should feel empowered to access the new booking system and not wait for a phone call.

What do I do if the tool says there are no clinics in my area?
Saskatchewan has limited availability at this time, and especially in phase one, clinics will not be running every day in every part of the province. If there are no clinics near you, please try again to book your vaccine at a later date. Thank you for your patience.

Note that both patients and providers have the same access to schedule appointments. The telephone booking office will not have access to more appointments that what patients can see.

As phase 2 of Saskatchewan's immunization campaign begins, patients will have additional options to receive their vaccine, including drive-thru and mobile clinics, and at participating pharmacies.

Who can I talk to if I have questions about the tool or my appointment?
Anyone with technical issues or other questions are encouraged to call the booking system directly at 1-833-SaskVax.

Can I call the booking office with general inquiries about the vaccine?
No, the booking office is only available for those eligible to book appointments. Staff will not be taking general inquiry calls about the vaccine or any other subject.

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4. Telephone Booking System/Office

Do staff working at the telephone booking office have medical training?
No, booking agents have no medical training. They are trained not to answer any clinical questions. Their function is highly scripted in order to facilitate booking vaccine appointments only. The call centre has a close connection with HealthLine 811 to access their nursing staff and also 911 in the event of an emergency.

What does the hours of operation of the telephone booking office look like?
The booking office will run 8 am to 9 pm, 7 days per week.

Will patients have the ability to book vaccinations 24/7?
The online patient booking system is the fastest way to get your appointment, and is available 24/7. 

How confident are we that the telephone line will be able to handle the extremely high volumes that are anticipated?
We are making every effort to make the experience as seamless as possible.

During initial testing, it was determined that utilizing the 811 call centre, combined with the volumes we expect, may jeopardize other critical, clinical systems that the health centre needs. For that reason, are establishing an independent phone line, separate from the 811 system, to address this problem.

The booking office will have the ability to scale up to meet demands. However, the online patient booking system is the fastest way to get your appointment, and is available 24/7. It's simple to use and only takes a few minutes.

Our commitment remains to timely, accurate and safe service to our clients.

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5. Use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine in Specific Age Groups

On March 24, 2021 Health Canada issued guidance on the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine, following European reports of rare but serious cases of blood clots associated with low levels of platelets. Based on NACI’s recommendations, Saskatchewan paused AstraZeneca vaccine use in all individuals less than 55 years of age. On April 20, 2021 the government announced Saskatchewan will be using AstraZeneca vaccine to immunize adults 40 years and older (targeted to begin April 28, 2021). AstraZeneca vaccine will be integrated into the provincial vaccination roll-out plan. Other Canadian provinces are administering AstraZeneca vaccine to those 40+. 

What exactly has been documented in these cases of blood clots in Europe?

  • The UK and EU have reported rare cases of serious blood clots associated with low blood platelets after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. To date, the majority have occurred within 4-28 days after vaccination.
  • Cases identified so far have been primarily in women under the age of 55 years.
  • This very rare, adverse event is being referred to as “Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia” (VITT). 
  • This adverse event has not been reported following receipt of Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines (mRNA vaccines). 

Is VITT treatable?

Yes. The outcome of VITT can be serious, but it can be treated if diagnosed early.

Were any risk factors identified as increasing an individual’s risk for VITT?

At this time no other risk factors have consistently been identified in patients who develop VITT. 

If you have received the Astra Zeneca vaccine what should you watch for?

There is no cause for concern for anyone who was vaccinated with AstraZeneca more than 28 days ago. 
Anyone vaccinated with AstraZeneca less than 28 days ago should monitor for specific symptoms, and seek immediate medical attention in the unlikely event that any arise. Symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  •  chest pain
  • leg swelling
  • persistent abdominal pain
  • sudden onset of severe or persistent worsening headaches or blurred vision
  • skin bruising (other than at the site of vaccination)
  • seizures

The same is true for anyone who receives the AstraZeneca vaccine going forward. In the rare cases where blood clots have developed, it has been within 28 days of the vaccine.

It’s important to note that the risk of serious, adverse reactions such as blood clots is extremely low. 

If I received my first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, will I get AstraZeneca for my second dose or another COVID-19 vaccine?

For now, you do not need a second dose for up to 4 months from your first dose. 

Decisions on the type of second dose that will be offered to those who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca will be based on the NACI recommendations and the latest evidence and research, including research and evidence on mixing COVID-19 vaccines. 

Why is Saskatchewan offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to those 40+?

For this group, the benefit of receiving the vaccine outweighs the risk factors.  As of mid-April 2021 in Saskatchewan, residents aged 40 and over who have contracted COVID-19 have seen the most severe outcomes, accounting for 84 per cent of total hospitalizations and 96 per cent of total deaths. Health Canada has approved this vaccine as safe for use in adults 18 years and older. 

AstraZeneca guidance keeps changing. How do I know if this vaccine is safe?

  • Once a vaccine has been reviewed and approved by Health Canada, it is considered safe and effective for use. Canada has a comprehensive vaccine safety monitoring system to alert public health to changing trends or serious, unexpected or unusual adverse events. These alerts trigger expert medical reviews to identify any safety concerns and respond to these quickly and appropriately. This is an essential part of the Government of Canada's ongoing robust vaccine safety monitoring to ensure the continued quality, safety and effectiveness of all vaccines and other health products that are in use in Canada.
  • As new guidance comes forward, provinces may adapt their rollout plans for particular vaccines. This is what has happened in Saskatchewan and other jurisdictions as AstraZeneca was paused for those under 55 years of age and now has been re-integrated for appropriate ages.
  • The benefit of receiving any COVID-19 vaccine outweighs the risks of getting COVID-19 disease.
  • Please take the vaccine that is offered to you to help protect you from COVID-19 disease.

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