Saskatchewan’s premier said he expects to scrap the vaccine requirement program by the end of the month. The Saskatchewan Union Of Nurses and other health-care professionals say it is not the right time to do so.
In a news conference on Monday, Scott Moe claimed COVID-19 vaccines no longer reduce the transmission of the Omicron variant. As a result, he said vaccine requirement programs are no longer needed.
“With the Omicron variant that we are facing, we are seeing some public health policies that have ran their course and served us well but their time has come for review,” Moe said.
Health-care professionals say Moe’s claim about vaccines not reducing transmission is untrue.
Saskatchewan broke its hospitalization record on Tuesday, with 370 patients in hospital with COVID-19.
Also on Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) voiced its disappointment with the premier’s statements on vaccines and the possible removal of some public health measures.
“The premier’s statements continue to ignore the advice of medical experts at a time when COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached their highest levels since the start of the pandemic,” said Dr. Eben Strydom, president of SMA, in a public statement.
“It shows no empathy for the thousands of health-care workers who are bearing the unrelenting weight of caring for such high volumes of COVID-19 patients and the impact that has on other health services.”
The Saskatchewan Union Of Nurses (SUN) echoed SMA’s alarm over Moe’s statements.
“I can tell you from hearing from registered nurses from across the province that they feel completely abandoned by the leadership of this province,” said Tracy Zambory, president of SUN.
Zambory also said many nurses are away sick or isolating right now, many due to the Omicron variant. This has caused multiple rural hospital facilities to go on bypass.
“Because either they were an outbreak or they didn’t have the health human resources there to actually run a emergency room or [take] patients,” said Zambory.
“The weight of all of this, and the misinformation and flip-flopping now of the leadership of th is province, putting people in more danger than ever before, is just another layer of trauma on the already traumatized health-care worker and registered nurse workforce in this province.”
Zambory said there is conflicting information coming from the province when it comes to vaccines. She pointed to how the province has stated time and time again that the only way out of the pandemic is through vaccination.
“Somehow, the premier has now decided that we don’t require vaccines. And for the registered nurses who have been there holding things up since March of 2020, it is a very hard blow.”
Zambory said the only time leadership should change direction in its handling of COVID-19 prevention measures is when epidemiologists, virologists, physicians and science tells them to do so.
“So rather than being proactive, having an offensive strategy put into place, we’ve just thrown the doors wide open, and record high hospitalizations tell us that’s a very, very dangerous strategy to to adopt.”
Zambory said Omicron has been a game changer for registered nurses. There has been no break in the action for months.
“They have been pulled here and there by the health authority, by the government, to be able to give care to the people of this province,” she said.
“So I can tell you right now the registered nurses who are on the front lines, along with the rest of the health-care team, will tell you we cannot take our foot off the brake here on making sure that we are taking care of the people of this province.”
Zambory said it’s disheartening to hear when nurses are feeling unsupported.
“Morale is in a free fall. Because as soon as we say it’s at its lowest, something else incredulous happens that we cannot believe would come from the leadership of the province,” said Zambory.
‘In the thick of it all’
Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease physician in Regina, says the decision to drop proof of vaccination requirements will further impact Saskatchewan’s health-care system.
“We’re still right in the thick of it all, and our health-care system is pretty much in the process of collapsing as we speak,” Wong said. “So it hurts, especially given the fact that we are still right in the midst of our Omicron surge here in Saskatchewan.”
Wong said the premier’s messaging on vaccines will make people confused and discouraged to get vaccines. And that directly affects the health-care system.
“The data is very clear, and if you do not get infected with Omicron, then you cannot transmit the virus, which then means that again, vaccines are very clearly reducing transmission of the virus. That is just simple scientific fact.”
Wong said he understands that people are fatigued with COVID-19.
“I think we all realize at a fundamental level that people are tired. They want to get on and move on with many different aspects of their lives.”