Hundreds of migrant workers in Windsor-Essex have received first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine

·2 min read
Leamington and Kingsville have been identified as hotspot regions in Windsor-Essex as the areas have seen high COVID-19 case rates in migrant worker populations.  (Ousama Farag/CBC - image credit)
Leamington and Kingsville have been identified as hotspot regions in Windsor-Essex as the areas have seen high COVID-19 case rates in migrant worker populations. (Ousama Farag/CBC - image credit)

About 440 farm workers in Windsor-Essex received the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine in Leamington on Sunday.

Vaccinations will continue to take place for the priority group this week and into next at Nature Fresh Farms Recreation Centre, according to Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's (WECHU) CEO Theresa Marentette. Last week, Marentette said the goal is to complete 400 vaccinations a day.

The move to vaccinate workers follows calls to protect the province's temporary workers from COVID-19 — and avoid the crisis seen last year. Two migrant farm workers in Windsor-Essex died after contracting COVID-19.

There were nearly 50 outbreaks and about 2,700 temporary foreign workers caught COVID-19 in 2020, Marentette said.

Every year, between 8,000 and 10,000 migrant workers come to Windsor-Essex and are employed across the region's 176 farms, according to WECHU.

Vaccinations for the group has also begun in other parts of the province, with hundreds having received the vaccine in Haldimand-Norfolk as of April 7.

Some concerned over how rollout is taking place

And while Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, says his organization supports the vaccinations, they do have lingering concerns.

Hussan told CBC News that they are worried about whether migrant workers are consenting to the vaccines or if they are being coerced by employers, as well as whether vaccine information is being provided in the appropriate language.

He said they have heard from dozens of workers in Ontario and across Canada who have been threatened to get the vaccine from their employers.

"The fact that we have to do such a complex system to ensure vaccines for migrant farm workers shows how much migrant farm workers don't have access to regular health care because otherwise they'd be able to get vaccines like everyone else," he said.

"The fact that we have to make specific and special measures means that we need to ask fundamentally why we have created a system where people can't even get basic healthcare."

Hussan said his group is advocating for the federal government to give permanent immigration status to temporary foreign workers to reduce healthcare and labour barriers.

Last week, the federal government announced a program to give permanent residency to 90,000 temporary essential workers. But Hussan said many migrants workers will be excluded because of the language requirements.