Sask. Health Minister Merriman calls declining COVID-19 booster shot a ‘mistake’ as BA.2 rises

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said a recent rise in detection of the Omicron COVID-19 subvariant BA.2 is a “concern,” but not a reason to take any new actions to prevent spread.

“That’s not something we’re currently looking at. I would say we’re concerned about BA.2 but we’re keeping an eye on it,” Merriman said Monday.

“The overall cases haven’t jumped that much. Any time there’s a variant that comes up Dr. (Saqib) Shahab keeps a very close eye on it, so if there is a concern we’re prepared to be able to deal with it. If things change we will adapt.”

With many still arriving in hospital with COVID-19, though, he encouraged Saskatchewan residents to increase booster shot uptake rates.

“COVID still is in all of our communities. It still could prevent very severe symptoms, especially if somebody is immunocompromised,” he said.

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“We can certainly talk about another awareness campaign. My opinion is people either have a shot now, or they’re working towards getting their shot or they’re choosing not to get their shot, which in my opinion is a mistake.”

Saskatchewan’s most recent weekly epidemiology report, released Thursday, shows that among the population 18 years and older, 51.2 per cent had received at least one booster vaccination. It shows 2,223 booster shots were delivered between March 13 and 19.

Read more: BA.2 could mean new COVID-19 wave, scientists say

Thursday’s report noted that the Omicron BA.2 sublineage accounted for 25.9 per cent of cases sequenced in the previous week, an increase from 5.4 per cent during the previous reporting period.

The percentage was highest in the southwest reporting region and in Regina.

The number of lab-confirmed cases increased only slightly over the previous week to 895 from 832. The report shows that, as of March 23, 306 people were in hospital with COVID-19. The report says 128 people were admitted with a COVID-19-related illness.

Chief public health officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam said earlier this month that “evidence suggests BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1, BA.2 does not appear to be associated with more severe illness in vaccinated populations.”

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“However, it is still capable of causing severe disease among people without prior immunity, which underscores the importance of getting up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines including a booster if you are eligible,” her March 18 statement reads.

Read more: COVID-19 — BA.2 Omicron variant now dominant in three Saskatchewan cities’ wastewater

Recent wastewater samples of COVID-19 RNA also show BA.2 now comprises most of the detected virus in some Saskatchewan cities, including Prince Albert 81.1 (per cent), North Battleford (68.6 per cent) and Saskatoon (78.9 per cent).

The overall amounts of COVID-19 detected in wastewater did decrease from the previous week, though, by 74.4 per cent in Saskatoon, 91.8 per cent in Prince Albert and 56 per cent in North Battleford.

“The decrease in viral loads in the wastewater here is certainly indicative of things hopefully easing up a little bit,” University of Saskatchewan environmental toxicologist Markus Brinkmann told Global News Monday, adding it’s still important for people to take precautions when around other people in public areas.

Read more: ‘Rise of the BA.2 variant is worrisome’ — Quebec urges caution as it warns of ‘possible’ 6th COVID wave

On Sunday Quebec’s interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau held a press conference to inform Quebecers that, while “it is still too soon to say a sixth wave is officially here,” indicators of a new wave are on the rise.

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He said along with an uptick in cases and positivity rates of PCR tests limited to certain high-priority groups, health authorities have also noted a spike in hospitalizations in several regions outside of the Montreal area.

Boileau added that about 8,600 health network workers are currently off the job due to the virus. By comparison, during the Omicron wave in December and January, between 16,000 and 20,000 health workers were absent in Quebec.

— with files from Nathaniel Dove and Alessia Simona Maratta

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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