A Saskatchewan medical expert is calling for a renewed focus on getting more COVID-19 vaccines into arms.

Epidemiologist Nazeeem Muhajarine believes a fourth COVID-19 shot may be our best shot at ending the pandemic.

“That’s actually how we are going to put the pandemic behind us for real, once and for all,” Muhajarine said.

Fourth doses provide stronger protection against serious outcomes compared to third doses, according to Muhajarine.

He got his second booster shot on Friday to protect himself from what he called the “real threat.”

“Long COVID is not rare. It’s actually quite frequent for those who are infected,” Muhajarine said.

“I don’t want to be one of those unfortunate people who will end up having limitations in health, my function and what I do long after I’m initially infected.”

The provincial government expanded eligibility for fourth doses to everyone 50 and older on April 26.

Despite the clear uptick, Saskatchewan continues to have the second lowest vaccination rate among the provinces.

Roughly 49 per cent of Saskatchewan residents 12 years and older have received at least one booster shot. Alberta has the lowest rate at 43 per cent.

The health minister said he is not sure when eligibility for fourth doses will expand to those under 50 years old.

“We’re not too sure where we’re going to move on that right now, unless you’re medically fragile and have some pre-existing conditions,” Paul Merriman said.

According to Muhajarine, there is not enough evidence to show the clear benefits of fourth doses in young adults around the age of 20.

There is still capacity to increase fourth doses, but also first boosters, Muhajarine said.

The epidemiologist wants to see the government refresh its vaccination campaign strategies to increase uptake and decrease hesitancy.

“We have to engage people one on one or in small groups who are still reluctant,” he said.

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat said Saskatchewan’s vaccination rates, especially for school aged children, are unacceptable.

“We should be doing everything we can to increase vaccination rates among kids,” she said.

The official opposition called on the government to introduce paid leave for parents to take their children to get vaccinated.

Merriman did not commit to paid leave. Instead, he said families have access to pharmacies and clinics across the province.

I have encouraged everyone to go get their shots when they can.

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