Restaurant staff, taxi drivers say they feel left out of vaccine rollout for front-line workers

·3 min read
A waiter serves diners at an outside patio during a moment of sun in Vancouver in January 2021.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A waiter serves diners at an outside patio during a moment of sun in Vancouver in January 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Teachers, child-care workers, grocery store staff and first responders in B.C. were elated on Thursday to find out they will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine as early as next month, as the province moves ahead with its vaccination plan.

But the announcement, made by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in a lengthy press conference, has left some workers who also can't work from home feeling left behind.

While the announcement from the province means that 300,000 workers will receive at least one dose of vaccine in April, it does not include restaurant workers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, court workers, or food bank workers.

"It's a little bit frustrating as a restaurant owner, I feel like we are front-line workers as well. Every day we're running into people we don't know," said Farooq Shariff, co-owner of Vancouver's Kilimanjaro Snack House and Catering.

"It may not be as important as a medical or healthcare field, but at the same time we are putting ourselves at risk."

It's a sentiment echoed by Mohan Kang, the president of the B.C. Taxi Association.

"We are the essential services and we carry thousands of customers every day. Our drivers, if they're not safe, they're unsafe for the customers," he said.

"As far as I'm concerned, I would like to see all my members be vaccinated yesterday. But I'm a professional guy, and the government has the data."

'They're all essential'

Dr. Alice Virani, the head of ethics at the Provincial Health Service Authority, said the province took an evidence-based approach to determine where spread was happening and decide how vaccines should be distributed.

"They're all essential in terms of the need to keep society functioning and running, but some essential workers are more at risk because of the nature of their work," she said, citing a number of outbreaks among factory workers and in meat processing plants across B.C.

"While it's very difficult for the industry, restaurants can be shut down on a very temporary basis, but grocery stores cannot."

During the province's Thursday press conference it presented the reasons that various workers are being prioritized for the vaccine.

For example, it said that grocery workers were being vaccinated as an "equity issue because many are low wage earners." First responders, including police, are being vaccinated because "immunization will help maintain this essential response infrastructure."

Shariff said he believes the B.C. government has done a good job of managing the pandemic and he trusts his staff will eventually be vaccinated. Still, he said worries for the months ahead, especially as the virus continues to spread in the community.

"It's certainly hard for staff sometimes to deal with ... we really want to make sure we're doing our best to make sure we're keeping our staff safe," he said.

"This is an industry [...] that has probably helped our community through the pandemic when it comes to dining and takeout and delivery. We've adjusted and adapted and we feel that we deserve to be vaccinated early."