More than 15,000 workers will be offered vaccines
By Diego Flammini
The Alberta government announced a vaccine rollout for members of the province’s agri-food industry.
As of April 27, more than 15,000 workers at 136 federal and provincial meatpacking plants are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
The government will use multiple tactics to administer the vaccinations, said Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
“In order to vaccinate as many workers as possible as quickly as possible, a variety of approaches will be used including on-site clinics, pharmacies and Alberta Health Services (AHS) clinics,” he said during an April 26 press conference.
Workers at federal meatpacking facilities like Olymel in Red Deer and Cargill in High River will receive vaccines first.
Once the on-site clinics wrap up, employees who didn’t receive a vaccine will receive a letter from their employer they can present at an AHS clinic to receive a shot.
At the smaller provincial meatpacking facilities, employers will receive a list of AHS clinics and pharmacies in the area and copies of a letter they can distribute to employees to prove vaccine eligibility.
The Cargill plant, which has experienced two COVID outbreaks and shutdowns, is also the site of a pilot program led by researchers from the University of Calgary, Shandro said.
“The goal of this project will be to combat vaccine hesitancy by providing translated materials and on-site translators at the meatpacking plants,” he said.
The pilot program is being staffed by Cargill employees, company nurses and local doctors.
These measures show the government’s commitment to keeping workers in the ag sector safe, said Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry.
“Alberta’s government promised meatpacking workers that they would be offered vaccines as part of this phase of the vaccine rollout and we are following through on that commitment,” he told Farms.com in an emailed statement. “Meatpacking workers are essential to our food supply chain and we’re ensuring more than 15,000 eligible workers can get a vaccine as soon as possible.”
Employees have voiced their willingness to receive the vaccine.
“The overwhelming majority of our members want early access to a safe vaccine and in part that’s underscored by the fact they don’t feel government, policy-makers and their employer have kept them safe,” Thomas Hesse, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, which represents staff at Cargill and the JBS Canada facility in Brooks, told CBC.
Members of Alberta’s ag sector are pleased to see these workers receive their vaccinations.
Offering immunizations to workers will help keep workplaces safe from further outbreaks, said Eric Haak, chair of the Alberta Food Processors Association (AFPA).
“AFPA is happy that our essential workers in the meat processing plants here in Alberta will now have access to the vaccine,” he told Farms.com in an emailed statement. “It should be helpful to the larger plants in getting COVID taken care of so they can continue to support the food supply chain here in Alberta and around the world.”
“AFPA is here to help support its members and assist in any way possible to facilitate our essential workers receiving vaccinations without jeopardizing the prioritization of essential healthcare workers and others at extreme high risk.”
Producer groups are also glad meatpacking workers will be offered vaccines.
“This announcement is very well received by Alberta Beef Producers,” Melanie Wowk, chair of the organization, told Farms.com. “I hope the uptake is there and employees will take the opportunity to get vaccinated.”
These steps to protect workers will help ensure the supply chain remains operational, said Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork.
“Meatpacking plant worker safety should be a priority for our government, public health officials and the entire Canadian agri-food sector. Our colleagues on the processing side have been pushing for this need to be recognized, and Alberta’s pork producers are pleased to see that progress is being made,” he told Farms.com in an emailed statement. “Worker vaccinations at Alberta’s federally and provincially inspected abattoirs will help ensure that Canada’s pork supply remains intact for producers and their pigs, processors, retailers and exporters. A functional supply chain is in the best interest of Canadian consumers and our global partners.”