VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C. workers whose jobs require contact with the public are wondering where exactly they fit in to the province’s vaccination plan, which will use age as the primary way of determining priority.
The plan, announced Friday, outlines phases for the province’s mass immunization plan. With this shift to focusing on age, others who were previously in the second priority group — which included a number of front-line, essential workers — have been bumped out to later dates.
The BCGEU represents 80,000 workers in sectors like retail, healthcare, corrections, and childcare. Union President Stephanie Smith says while members do not oppose prioritizing people based on age, they would like some clarity on parts of the plan.
“We fully understand the priority of a population that is at extreme risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19,” she says.
“We represent tens of thousands of members who have been deemed essential, who, through their daily work are at higher risk.”
#BREAKING Focus of #BC’s #COVID19 Immunization Plan remains protecting elders with age-based approach to delivering vaccines in phases until September.
People under age 18 are not among 4.3-million people initially eligible. #bcpoli @NEWS1130 pic.twitter.com/gpTdonTN6B
— Marcella Bernardo (@Bernardo1130) January 22, 2021
Phase Two, Smith points out, includes “vulnerable populations in select congregated settings,” which may or may not include some union members.
“What does that mean? We have members who work in group homes, who work in shelters, who work in supportive housing, and of course who work in corrections in our provincial jails. So does that include them?” she asks.
“That’s the clarity that I think our members are concerned about, and we as their union are concerned about.”
The priority for Smith remains keeping members safe while they are at work, and pushing the government to provide more details.
“My job and our job as a union is to advocate as strongly as possible, and to fight for those members to be as high up on a priority list as they possibly can be.”
As British Columbians find out when they will likely receive the COVID-19 vaccine, there are those who are pleasantly surprised and others who say they feel left behind. @AshleyBurr_ has more. https://t.co/82jZdO6ZDA #COVID19BC #BCPoli pic.twitter.com/idmqkJJNbg
— CityNews Vancouver (@CityNewsVAN) January 23, 2021
Similarly, a spokesperson for the BC RCMP says members of the force are exposed to heightened risks while providing an essential service.
“We have always indicated that all our front line first responders, especially those in isolated and remote communities, are at greater risk. Of particular concern is the need to ensure that exposures and outbreaks do not deplete detachment resources that could impact community safety,” writes Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubb in a statement.
“We respect that the BC vaccination roll-out plan has just been announced and we will be discussing the plan and its impacts in the days and weeks ahead with policing and government partners.”
Dental professionals plan to push for higher priority, saying the nature of their work puts them into close contact with maskless people.
“The BC Dental Association is very disappointed and dismayed that dental professionals are scheduled to receive the vaccine along with the general public,” reads a statement sent to members of the association.
“Dental treatment requires hands-on care for patients who are not wearing masks, including patients requiring urgent and emergency treatment. BCDA joins our colleagues in the dental community in advocating that dental professionals be included in Phase 2 vaccine distribution. We need to ensure dental professionals and our most at-risk patients in all BC communities remain safe in our ongoing commitment to provide dental care during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The bulletin points to Ontario where dental professionals have been given the same priority as medical professionals like midwives, pharmacists, and Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists among others.
With files from John Ackermann, Ashley Burr, and Marcella Bernardo