Starting next week, some education workers will be eligible to get their COVID-19 vaccines.
Wednesday afternoon, the province announced all special education staff who provide direct support to students can register for their shots beginning next week. All education workers in “hot spot” neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel will also be eligible, with education staff in other hot zones such as Hamilton to be eligible later.
“Vaccination of education staff will be accelerated, with access starting during the April break for all special education staff provincewide,” said a statement from Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for the minister of education.
Doug Ford also announced that mobile teams and pop-up clinics will deliver vaccines to individuals age 18 or older in “high-risk” congregate settings, residential buildings, places of worship, and large workplaces in hot spot neighbourhoods, starting in Toronto and Peel.
Two hot spot postal codes in Hamilton — L9C on the west Mountain and L8W on the east Mountain — are expected to be included later on, the province confirmed.
Ford expected to expand bookings to more age groups in hot spot neighbourhoods through its online system by Friday. This will allow residents age 50 and older in select postal codes to get shots at mass clinics.
The announcement came as the province entered its third state of emergency in the pandemic, and Ontario was set to enter a stay-at-home order as of Thursday at 12:01 a.m.
Ford urged eligible residents to book their vaccines.
“I’m going to be as blunt as I can, your life is in jeopardy if you don’t start getting a vaccine,” the premier said.
Earlier in the day, local politicians called on the province to prioritize essential workers.
“If we don’t get shots into the arms of factory, warehouse and food supply workers, teachers and education workers and other at-risk essential workers, thousands more will get sick, and more will die,” said Andrea Horwath, MPP for Hamilton Centre, in a statement.
“ICUs will continue to be overwhelmed,” said the Ontario NDP leader. “This shutdown will be longer, deeper and more painful than it needs to be.”
“The risk is higher than ever,” said Sandy Shaw, MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, in an open letter to the premier. “We need urgent action to vaccinate our teachers and education workers.”
Roughly half of Hamilton’s 46 active outbreaks are in sites classified as schools or workplaces. Nine are in businesses with 11 in schools or daycares.
Dr. Elizabeth Richardson told the general issues committee Wednesday that special education staff were “the highest risk group” in school boards, but public health was waiting for Ontario to define who fits into that group.
“We’re then looking at how do teachers fit within the essential workers group,” she said, including child-care providers. “We’re just in that phase where we’re trying to balance between a lot of people who are at significant risk.”
On Tuesday, a produce clerk at a Food Basics in Ancaster expressed his frustration working on the front lines while not being prioritized for the vaccine.
“The numbers are showing that this variant is going after younger people,” said Casey Bruton, 29. “We’re still on the front lines, still getting no support from anybody.”
He was concerned in particular about the “sheer number of people” that he and others like him encounter on a daily basis.
“We have no choice but to be around,” he said. “It makes it kind of scary.”
Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator