To get essential workers vaccinated, companies say they need a bigger role in planning efforts

·3 min read
Essential workers in dozens of industries will be eligible for vaccination during Phase 2 of Ontario's plan, which is now underway. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Essential workers in dozens of industries will be eligible for vaccination during Phase 2 of Ontario's plan, which is now underway. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Business owners say they want to play a bigger role in Ontario's plan to vaccinate essential and frontline workers, but they've been given few opportunities to contribute to those efforts so far.

Phase 2 of the province's COVID-19 vaccination campaign includes dozens of categories of essential workers who will soon be eligible to receive their vaccines.

The businesses that employ those workers say their participation in the plan could speed up the process and ensure a larger portion of their workforce actually receive their shots.

"We'd like to be as involved as we can be," said Jason Smith, the director for transportation operations at J.D. Smith and Sons, a trucking and warehousing company based in Vaughan, Ont.

"If there was the ability to have more control and we were able to be a part of that process, then inevitably that only would increase the number of people who would get access to [vaccines]."

Companies are calling for more input at a time when cases are surging in several parts of Ontario, especially among front-line and essential workers, prompting the provincial government to declare a state of emergency and issue a stay-at-home order, which took effect on Thursday.

Firms say they could promote vaccination and make the process more efficient through a number of potential solutions.

That includes the possibility of blocking off work hours so employees could be vaccinated at mobile clinics, or arranging transportation for groups of workers to attend mass immunization clinics.

Workers at the Wildly Delicious Preserves Company. The company's manufacturing facility is within the postal code of a COVID-19 hotspot identified by the provincial government.
Workers at the Wildly Delicious Preserves Company. The company's manufacturing facility is within the postal code of a COVID-19 hotspot identified by the provincial government.(Austin Muscat)

Emergency responders, including Toronto Firefighters, previously took part in a coordinated workforce-wide vaccination plan during Phase 1 of the campaign, which saw them vaccinated at a clinic at Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital.

But the latest version of the provincial booking system does not allow employers to coordinate similar programs, because only individuals can make appointments.That leaves the responsibility of booking and attending vaccination appointments up to the workers themselves.

"We have had no guidance on how I would go about getting my staff vaccinated," said Austin Muscat, the owner of Wildly Delicious Preserves Company in Toronto.

Muscat's employees will soon be eligible as food manufacturing workers.

"I'm prepared to do anything I need to do to make sure that my staff is vaccinated and safe," he said.

Could employers help book appointments?

Coun. Ana Bailão, who represents Ward 9, Davenport, said other companies are also seeking a larger role in the vaccine plan. During a city council meeting this week, Bailão said at least one has expressed interest in booking appointments for its employees and providing transportation so they could attend a mass clinic.

Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa responded to Bailão by noting that mass bookings are not permitted by the current system.

"We're a little restricted by the provincial booking system," de Villa said.

"That's not the only group that has expressed an interest in finding a way to facilitate that kind of booking."

Ontario's Ministry of Health did not confirm to CBC Toronto that it is considering a change to the booking system that would allow employers to schedule mass appointments.

The ministry instead highlighted its plan to bring mobile clinics to some essential workplaces, though few details of that program have been made public.

"Ontario is working with public health units and large employers to plan and support the implementation of workplace vaccination clinics," said a ministry spokesperson in an email.