Sask., North Dakota in talks to vaccinate transport drivers

·3 min read
North Dakota has started offering free vaccines to Manitoba truck drivers who transport goods across the border. (Submitted by North Dakota Department of Health  - image credit)
North Dakota has started offering free vaccines to Manitoba truck drivers who transport goods across the border. (Submitted by North Dakota Department of Health - image credit)

Some Canadian truck drivers returning home through North Dakota have been getting more than a stamp on their passport when they cross the border into Manitoba — they've been getting a COVID-19 vaccine, as well.

This vaccination initiative began as a collaboration between North Dakota and Manitoba.

"[Manitoba] Premier [Brian] Pallister … called back in February and said, 'Hey, we've got to try to get trade going again between our province and the state, between our two countries,'" North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said in an interview with CBC's Rosemary Barton Live.

"He had the trucker's association that was interested in participating in this, so he came with a solid idea, and once we had the available supplies, we started executing on it."

Earlier this week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said during question period that he is in talks with North Dakota about vaccinating transport drivers from this province as well.

"We had a call with Premier Moe earlier this week, when he heard word this was going to be announced," said Burgum. "He [said] 'let's go.'

"Of course, with Regina and Saskatoon, we've got energy workers moving back and forth as well across the border, in addition to transportation. And so we've got a followup meeting with him on Monday, and I expect we'll get a pilot going with Saskatchewan as well."

According to Burgum, North Dakota has the vaccines to spare — among the approximately 762,000 people in the state, almost 47 per cent of those eligible have received at least one vaccine dose, and nearly 40 per cent already fully vaccinated, according to the state's online data.

"We're marketing, trying to get more vaccine out," said Burgum.

'We want to be great neighbours'

Burgum says vaccinating transport drivers and other essential cross-border workers is a win-win for Canada and the U.S., and hopes this type of vaccination initiative will expand to more provinces and states.

"I was on a call earlier this week with some other governors and shared the idea with Montana's governor, and New Hampshire's governor was on that call too," he said.

"So there's been some other border-state governors that have heard of the idea and hopefully this will catch on, because Canada is such an important trade partner.

"I think virtually every state along the northern tier, our number 1 trading partner is Canada. And … it's important for tourism and for our economy to keep those borders open."

Besides, Burgum says, it's the right thing to do.

"We want to keep being great neighbours," he said. "Here in North Dakota, we want to be great neighbours with our friends in the north."

The vaccination clinic, located at the North Dakota Department of Transportation's rest area near Drayton, N.D. — about 50 kilometres south of the border — has already proved popular.

"We were scheduled to start opening at 2 o'clock through 8 o'clock for people returning heading north on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, after they'd been on a long route in the United States," said Burgum.

"And that first day that we were open and set up to go ... there were 12 trucks waiting in line."

John Harrower, a truck driver based in Brandon, Man., got the first dose of his COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up site in North Dakota on Thursday.
John Harrower, a truck driver based in Brandon, Man., got the first dose of his COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up site in North Dakota on Thursday.(Submitted by John Harrower )

The clinic, which is currently scheduled to run until May, can deliver 200 vaccines a day.

And truck drivers haven't been the only Canadians to benefit from the North Dakota pop-up site.

"We had a snowbird coming back from Arizona that pulled into the safety rest area, so we gave them a vaccination too," said Burgum.