With more than 400,000 vaccines administered throughout the province, the people of Saskatchewan are slowly but surely taking the high ground in the fight against COVID-19.

This is the opinion of Dr. Gavin Van de Venter – chief of staff at the Meadow Lake Hospital – who, in spite of his optimism, continues to stress how important it is to not only get vaccinated, but to still follow all COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines until the government decrees otherwise.

“The government’s intent is to try to get as many first vaccines into arms before second vaccines,” Van de Venter said. “The reasoning behind this is, according to the research we have available at the moment, after the first vaccination your immunity is really high – in some cases more than 80 per cent. It’s also been realized 30 days are no longer required between (first and second) shots. It can now be extended up to four months.”

As for why vaccine recipients must continue to mask up and follow all other safety precautions, Van de Venter said the reason is a simple one.

“What people need to understand is the vaccination is to protect yourself, but the mask is to protect everybody else around you,” he explained. “The mask isn’t primarily there to protect you, but rather those you come in contact with. The vaccination doesn’t mean you can’t still get infected. It just means you won’t get sick. You can still become a carrier and could pass it on to someone else.”

Contrary to some reports, however, Van de Venter said wearing only one mask is sufficient opposed to wearing two – a medical mask covered by a cloth mask. He also went on to say all four COVID-19 vaccines currently in production have a 100 per cent success rate in terms of preventing recipients from ending up in ICU or dying, adding the goal is to achieve herd immunity if things are ever going to return to how they were before the pandemic.

“Restrictions will be lifted when we have herd immunity, and we can’t have herd immunity if people don’t get vaccinated,” he noted. “There are many people refusing the vaccine, which is their right. But, for every one person who doesn’t want to get it, it just means we are going to have to wear masks, practice social distancing and experience lockdowns even longer.”

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, he added, has even made an official recommendation pregnant women should get vaccinated.

“Whether you’re pregnant, planning on getting pregnant or breast-feeding, you should definitely consider getting vaccinated,” Van de Venter said. “The side effects of the vaccine are very mild compared to the effects of the virus on mom and baby… there is enough research now that shows the babies of mothers who are vaccinated actually have antibodies already flowing through their blood… they are immune to it through mom’s immunity. Pregnant mothers are also very high risk of respiratory disease of any kind, and so much so because of COVID.”

Room for improvement
Meanwhile, even though he is happy with the number of people who have been booking vaccinations locally and said every last drop of vaccines delivered to Meadow Lake have been used to date, Van de Venter would like to see more people express enthusiasm over the prospect of being vaccinated.

“The people who are coming out are excited, they’re motivated and very compliant with doing their part,” he said. “But, we are a little disappointed there are so many people who are hesitant. We respect their choice and will always be there to support them in their choice, but we’re anxious to go back to a normal life.”

Among those to receive her first vaccination is Meadow Lake resident Sacha Munro. She was vaccinated April 22.

“I don’t feel too comfortable just yet because I believe it (vaccine) takes about four weeks to really take effect,” Munro said. “I’m still masking, still not having people in my house and still following all the rules and regulations. I am happy to have received the vaccine, though, as this is kind of the beginning of the new normal.”

Munro said she chose to take the vaccine mainly to protect the health care system and her family.

“You can still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, but it decreases your chances of hospitalization and death,” she said.

Another recent recipient of the vaccine is city councillor Mauri Young.

“I received my first shot within three-and-a-half hours of being eligible,” Young said. “Our family lost a cousin at 65 years of age who had an underlying health condition to COVID-19. I do not want to be one who would spread it to family, co-workers, friends or acquaintances.”

As for Van de Venter, he said – after more than a year of COVID-19 – the medical staff in Meadow Lake has simply become exhausted.

“Their motivation is difficult to keep up and we need to push each other all the time,” he said. “The third wave is showing us this virus means business… I can see the way people around here are relaxing, and we’re going to end up the same as other parts of Canada if we don’t follow the rules. With more vaccines coming, this is going to be the final push. We have summer waiting for us, so if we do our best and behave now we could be in for a good summer, and that would be so awesome.”

by Phil Ambroziak