VICTORIA (CityNews) — According to the provincial health officer, workplace vaccinations are being rolled out in an attempt to stop community transmission, an initiative separate from B.C.’s age-based vaccination plan.
After a cluster of COVID-19 at a Port Coquitlam Costco, employees were offered vaccinations. Workers at a Langley glass plant where 44 workers have become infected were also immunized.
Dr. Bonnie Henry explained the move at Monday’s briefing, saying they are focusing on high-risk work sites.
“That is what we’re using this alternate or parallel track for, to best protect and stop transmission in the community. We’ll have more details about that, but right now that means looking at some of those industries where we have ongoing, repeated transmission events and outbreaks that are making people sick, that they’re bringing home, that people are ending up in hospital, and where workplaces are very challenging to make safe,” she said.
“It’s not about prioritizing one specific industry, it’s about addressing the outbreaks and clusters that are ongoing in our communities now.”
The Ministry of Health says workplaces deemed to have the highest risk have been identified in consultation with WorkSafe BC.
These locations include:
- Food processing plants, including poultry, fruit and fish processing
- Agricultural operations with congregate worker accommodations, including farms, nurseries and greenhouses
- Large industrial camps under the PHO Industrial Camps order with congregate accommodations for workers
- Other large congregate living settings for workers where isolation and quarantine is difficult and outbreaks are ongoing
In a statement, the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union says workers and inmates in the province’s jails are being vaccinated. Outbreaks are ongoing at the Fraser Regional Correctoimal Centre and the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre. The outbreak at the North Fraser Pretrial Services centre was declared over Monday.
President Stephanie Smith says immunization is not limited to sites with active outbreaks.
“Since the announcement of BC’s immunization plan in December, the BCGEU has been advocating for vaccine priority to be given to workers and residents in congregate settings — like correctional facilities. We are very pleased that vaccinations of correctional officers and other staff in correctional facilities are no longer being driven solely by outbreaks and that health authorities are working to vaccinate staff at all centres,” it reads.
Rob Farrer with the National Police Federation thinks police officers should also be prioritized.
“I think we can look at many examples where police officers have to go from file to file, and in many of those instances, say a mental health call, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to social distance and wear masks in that call. The police officer might, but the person they’re dealing with may not. They may have to go hands on,” he says.
Meanwhile, in schools, data from Worksafe BC show the education sector has the second-highest number of workplace claims due to COVID-19.
Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation wants teachers to be offered the shot as part of a campaign to target workplaces.
“When we have different businesses getting their employees vaccinated, we think that government ought to prioritize teachers as well. There are other essential workers that also need to be prioritized and so we fully expect that that should be the case.”
“We think it’s important that teachers are vaccinated as soon as possible, in part because we are seeing teachers get sick at school.”
However, Henry has repeatedly said there is little transmission within schools and most exposures and cases are linked to community spread.
With files from Lisa Steacy