HURON-PERTH – The provincial government and the COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force have developed a three-phase plan and ethical framework that guide how vaccines will be distributed in Ontario.
The province is currently in phase one of the plan. The priority groups are vulnerable populations that are at greatest risk of COVID-19 and severe illness, and those who care for them.
Phase two is expected to begin in the spring and includes front-line essential workers, such as those in the food processing industry. This is where agricultural workers will be included. Katherine Horst, acting communications coordinator for Huron-Perth Public Health (HPPH) said they don’t yet know the specific sequencing for phase two and are working to better understand where agricultural workers fit.
“We’re working closely with stakeholders and planning groups on implementation,” she said. “As vaccine supply increases and becomes more stable, we will have more information.”
Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece agreed that implementation of the second phase of vaccinations depends on vaccine supply.
“I think you know there have been blips in the supply,” he said. “We were supposed to get vaccines and then we didn’t for whatever reason but that’s kind of the reality that we’re facing.”
Pettapiece is confident local health units are prepared to administer the vaccine when it arrives. One thing that is already being implemented in the agriculture sector is that the Ministry of Health is deploying the test kits to essential workplaces to enhance the screening measures and quickly identify and stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Essential industry sectors including primary agriculture production and food processing and distribution centres currently have access to up to 300,000 tests per week so that is what is going on right now,” he said.
According to Pettapiece, the riding of Perth-Wellington is set up to get at phase two as soon as supply arrives.
“Agriculture is an essential service but again there is also they are going to be going by ages too,” he said. “People in the 80-age group, the 70-age group, they are prioritized too as we go along but again it depends on supply. If we have the supply we have full confidence that we can get these things administered.”
Pettapiece said he’s very pleased with the response both health units in his riding, HPPH and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, have had to the pandemic.
“(They) have operated and jumped on anything we’ve had there as far as outbreaks go,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to have two public health units that have done just a stellar job to mitigate the harm that this virus has done to my riding.”
From the federal government perspective, Perth-Wellington MP John Nater echoed the recommendation that those involved in the food processing industry should be included in phase two when a greater number of vaccines coming into Canada.
“I think that’s important … especially when you see some of the shutdowns that have happened in the processing industry with both pork and beef,” he said. “I think it’s very important that those in the food industry get vaccinated sooner rather than later to protect food supply long-term and also to support the farmers and farm families who are affected by those types of shutdowns.”
Nater feels there is a shared optimism that there will be an increase in vaccine shipments to Canada allowing the process to move forward more easily.
“We all want to see this succeed and we want this to succeed sooner rather than later, so we’re hoping the promised shipments will be coming on time and, hopefully, there will be more than have been promised at this point,” he said. “I’m optimistic especially for those who are in the most vulnerable sectors and frontline workers, those who are over a certain age. In the next stage as well, those who are in the food industry ... because these are all things that are important for not only our economy but our community and our families as well, so I’m optimistic and I think we’re all hoping and determined to see it succeed.”
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner