Still unclear when meat plant workers and TFWs will receive COVID-19 vaccine

While the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has been slower in Canada than in the U.S. and the UK, questions also still remain on how each province will decide who receives the vaccine and when.

As previously reported by RealAgiculture, the Canadian Meat Council and other agri-food industry groups have been lobbying for meat workers to receive the vaccine as soon as possible.

There are also questions about where temporary foreign workers employed in essential positions in the food value chain — packing plants and greenhouses — are in the line for vaccines.

“I would say that Canadians would have the priority for the vaccine because we are Canadians,” said Conservative agriculture critic Lianne Rood, on RealAg Radio this week.

Rood is also pushing for a rapid testing pilot project of seasonal workers that would be similar to what is currently underway at the Calgary airport to help minimize delays and costs.

The vaccine rollout is ultimately the responsibility of each province — so it may not look the same across the country; but at this point, the plans beyond frontline healthcare workers and the most vulnerable demographics remain unclear.

“There are about 4.4 million people in our province,” says Tom McMillan, assistant director of communications at Alberta Health, in a statement to RealAgriculture. “Right now, we’re receiving limited doses of the vaccine, so we’re starting in Phase 1 with those who are most vulnerable, and health care workers who serve them. The next phase will start in the spring. No decisions have been made on the specific priority populations or groups in this phase of the immunization schedule. We will make those decisions in the coming weeks.”

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Health has a similar message.

“In Phase Two we are expecting about 15 million vaccines to arrive in Ontario during the months of April, May and June, with the goal of vaccinating 150,000 people per day at mass vaccination sites,” says the Ontario Health spokesperson. “We are working to ensure these sites are ready by late winter in time for Phase Two to begin.”

“Prioritization for Phase Two has not yet been completed, but will expand to include more groups of essential workers, as well as people who are vulnerable because of their age or the region they live in. With 15 million vaccines we will be able to vaccinate around eight million Ontarians,” they say.

The same conversations are happening in the U.S., where the decisions around who gets the vaccine first are made at the state-level. This week Nebraska’s governor made it clear that undocumented packing plant workers would not be eligible .

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