By Laura Keil

The Province has announced that more than 300,000 front-line workers, including first responders, grocery store employees, teachers, and child care workers, will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations over the coming weeks, allowing them to get their shot earlier than their age would allow otherwise. This comes just a day after Northern Health announced that large industrial project workers living in “high-risk industrial settings,” such as Trans Mountain workers in Valemount, will also receive their shots early.

Approximately 15,000 doses of AstraZeneca – SII Covishield vaccine will be sent to industrial work sites in the Northern Health region. Industry will be responsible for delivering vaccine to their workforces, at their own clinic sites, Northern Health said. Trans Mountain said workers, contractors and sub-contractors will be eligible for vaccines, but will not be required to get one.

“We encourage workers to take advantage of the opportunity being offered but they will not be required to take the vaccine,” said Trans Mountain spokesperson Ali Hounsell.

Beginning in April, people in priority groups identified by public health and the COVID-19 Workplace Task Group will start to receive their first dose of the AstraZeneca/SII COVISHIELD (AZ/SII) vaccine.

Booking arrangements for front-line workers will be established in the coming weeks. The Province says workers identified as “front-line” should not call into regional health authority call centres yet.

The priority groups include: first responders (police, firefighters, emergency transport); K-12 educational staff; child care staff; grocery store workers; postal workers; bylaw and quarantine officers; manufacturing workers; wholesale/warehousing employees; staff living in congregate housing at places such as ski hills; correctional facilities staff; and cross-border transport staff.

The priority groups have been identified as workers in places and sectors where the use of personal protective equipment and barriers can be challenging; outbreaks and clusters have occurred or are ongoing; workers must live or work in congregate settings; or maintaining the workforce for a critical service is necessary.

“Following the latest science and data to identify high-risk industries or critical services will allow us to protect even more people from COVID-19, which in turn, gives our entire communities and our province greater protection from the virus,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.

The first shipment of AZ/SII will go to people in workplaces identified as having the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission, including food processing plants, such as poultry, fruit and fish processing; agricultural operations with congregate worker accommodations, including farms, nurseries and greenhouses; and large industrial camps with group accommodations for workers.

The Province says workers, workplaces and industries prioritized in B.C.’s plan have been identified based on recommendations and input of national and provincial groups, including the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, COVID-19 Workplace Task Group and B.C.’s Immunization Committee.

The Province will use a combination of community pharmacists, existing immunization clinics and mobile clinics at some worksites to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to front-line workers.

Regular roll-out ahead of schedule
The age-based vaccine roll-out using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is also accelerating and moving forward ahead of schedule, the Province says, and everyone in B.C. who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to receive a first dose before July 1, 2021.

Currently, every senior born in 1941 or before (80 years old and over) and Indigenous peoples born in or before 1956 (65 years old and over) can phone the Northern Health line at 1-844-255-7555 to book an appointment.

Starting Saturday, March 20, call centres began taking calls from those born between the years of 1942 to 1951 (79-70 year olds) and Indigenous peoples born in 1966 and before (55 and over). The provincial registration and booking system, both online and by phone, will be implemented starting April 6, 2021, for people between the ages of 65-69.