Ontario, Quebec address workforce vaccinations as infection rates rise
By Tara Deschamps
TORONTO — Calls are growing for provincial governments to prioritize vaccination rollout for essential workers amid a third wave of the COVID-19 virus across Canada.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters on Wednesday called on the Ontario government to put essential workers at the front of the line for vaccinations to protect the safety of manufacturing employees, just hours before Premier Doug Ford instituted provincewide stay-at-home orders.
Ford said Wednesday afternoon that vaccinations would be available for those in hot spots such as Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region next week.
Manufacturing workers have been told that the earliest potential inoculation is June, CME said, while their U.S. counterparts have largely completed vaccinating their employees.
The organization wants the province to prioritize essential production workers right after front-line workers and seniors. It’s offering help to speed the vaccination rollout, including using industrial sites and resources to deliver vaccines.
Time is of the essence, they say, because hospital beds are becoming overrun with patients under 60 years old — a dramatic shift from elderly patients and long-term care home residents who had the most severe reactions to the virus in the pandemic’s early days.
“The new long-term care is the essential workplace and it will continue to be the new long-term care despite lockdown,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases specialist in Hamilton and an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University.
Between March 15 and 21, people under the age of 59 made up 46 per cent of the province’s intensive care patients, the Ontario government said. Between Dec. 14 and 16, the same age group represented just 30 per cent of cases, suggesting a higher proportion are becoming infected.Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton’s office said it does not have data on how many Ontarians who can’t work remotely have contracted the virus, but said less than 20,000 of the province’s 338,000 cases were contracted in workplaces as of March 26.
Quebec details coming Thursday
In Quebec, companies including CAE Inc. have signed on to operate vaccine hubs or otherwise participate in corporate vaccination programs to accelerate immunization, beginning May 1.
Health Minister Christian Dube said Wednesday the province will unveil full details on Thursday, adding that “hundreds of businesses have contacted us” about participation in the program. He previously said Quebec will ensure training is in place to ensure vaccination at businesses is the same quality as in the public sector.
Even with progress in immunization rates, doctors and labour groups say it will take more than faster vaccinations to protect Canadians without the luxury to work from home.
They say the recent spike in cases show it’s also important to roll out paid sick leave, keep workplace inspections frequent and make it easier for employees to speak out about health risks.