Alberta will begin offering coronavirus vaccines to thousands of meat-packing employees across the province starting this week, but a union leader says some workers are reluctant to receive a shot from the government or an employer they don’t trust.
The provincial government says starting Tuesday, vaccines will be offered to more than 15,000 workers at 136 federal and provincial plants. Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the shots will be given over the next few weeks, provided doses arrive as scheduled.
“In order to vaccinate as many workers as possible as quickly as possible, a variety of approaches will be used, including on-site clinics, pharmacies and [Alberta Health Services] clinics,” says Shandro.
Plans for a vaccination clinic at Cargill Inc.’s beef slaughterhouse south of Calgary were put off last week. That plant was the site of a major outbreak last year, with nearly half of its 2,200 workers testing positive for the coronavirus. Shandro says that postponement was due to a reduction and delay in last week’s Moderna Inc. vaccine shipment. The health minister added that a pilot project led by University of Calgary researchers at the Cargill plant aims to combat vaccine hesitancy by providing translated materials and on-site translators to the workforce largely made up of foreign workers and new Canadians.
Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401, says employees at Cargill had their vaccinations cancelled within 24 hours of their appointment times last week, while drop-in spots for those eligible for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were being offered elsewhere.
He says 75 to 85 per cent of union members would take the vaccine, but some are hesitant. “They just don’t want to take a vaccine from the very employer and the government that didn’t protect them before. So they’re cynical and suspect, not of the vaccine, but of the entities that are delivering the vaccine.” But Hesse says he’s glad to see an acknowledgment that some workplaces are more vulnerable than others to coronavirus spread.
In Ontario’s Peel Region, Amazon.com Inc., Maple Leaf Foods Inc. and Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. said they’ll hold on-site vaccine clinics for workers in the coming weeks.
The region said the three clinics for workers and the hot-spot communities they’re located in will be part of a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership. It said the lessons learned from the pilot will be shared with other regions across the province.
Peel said specific details on how to access the clinics will be shared once “operational details” are finalized, but workers will be contacted directly by their employers. The region said workplace exposures continue to be a major contributor to community transmission.
Ontario announced recently that it would partner with large employers to offer on-site vaccines clinics for workers and the surrounding community. The province said at the time that it would ask employers hosting the clinics to pay to run them.
Peel’s top doctor said the partnership will allow the region to ramp up vaccination efforts in hot-spot communities. “These hot-spot workplace and community pop-up clinics are a welcome addition to the variety of ways that we’re delivering vaccines in arms,” Dr. Lawrence Loh said.
Maple Leaf Foods said it will begin vaccinating workers at its four plants in Peel starting next week. “We know that many of our employees reside in hot spots in the community and so this collaborative effort will meaningfully advance our shared objectives of safe communities and safe workplaces,” the company said in a statement.
And in Quebec, a dozen companies have rallied together to offer a vaccination hub in the Capitale-Nationale region. The site will be located in the new cruise terminal at the Port of Quebec and will be open to the population of the region, including the approximately 15,000 employees of the participating companies and members of their immediate families, while respecting the order of priority set by the Quebec government, according to a press release.
The site will have the capacity to vaccinate approximately 25,000 people from the end of May until the end of September, the release said, noting that participating companies have committed to assuming the costs of setting up and operating the site, including personnel and all logistical support.