Weeks after Ford announces workplace vaccine clinics, Hamilton employers are still waiting

·4 min read

Two weeks since the province announced employers in COVID hot spots would be able to host vaccination clinics, details are still scarce.

On April 7, Premier Doug Ford announced that people living in hot spots would be prioritized for vaccines, including at sites occupied by “large employers.”

Later, on April 13, the province invited interested employers to contact the province if they met certain criteria. A number of Hamilton businesses reached out, but heard nothing.

The Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority says it contacted the province last week to express interest in hosting a clinic. But they’ve received no updates so far, a spokesperson said Tuesday.

“We’re eager to help,” said Emily Paivalainen. “We’re just waiting.”

She noted a clinic could improve vaccine access for essential workers at the port, such as longshoremen who handle goods handling and can’t work from home. It would also inoculate the community, potentially including residents of the L8L hot spot covering the North End and industrial sectors.

The province laid out the following conditions:

The workplace is located within an identified hot spot community based on forward sortation area (start of postal code), have had a previous COVID-19 outbreak or be at risk of an outbreak;

The on-site clinic will vaccinate employees who can’t work from home;

The employer will also vaccinate those in the local community at the on-site clinic or at a different site in consultation with the local public health unit;

The employer will take on the responsibility of setting up, operating and funding the on-site vaccination clinic, and the community clinic if it’s not on-site.

ArcelorMittal Dofasco also confirmed it contacted the province about hosting a clinic for staff, but heard “nothing definitive” so far.

The steel producer created a “vaccine team” to hold a clinic to help vaccinate employees as well as residents in the L8N postal code.

“We are ready to execute on a number of different options should we have the opportunity,” said an emailed statement attributed to Tony Valeri, vice-president of corporate affairs.

In the meantime, the company had two active outbreaks with a combined 13 cases as of April 19 at 3 p.m. A third outbreak with two cases was declared over on April 19.

“Our experience with the pandemic ... is mirroring that of the community in this third wave,” the statement said.

Denninger’s also reached out to the province last week, and the retailer’s CEO said she’d “welcome” a chance to get employees vaccinated.

“I’d be open to anything we can do to protect them more,” said Mary Aduckiewicz.

The store’s Mountain location previously had an outbreak of three cases with a COVID variant.

“We’re not going to fool around with this (variant),” Aduckiewicz added. “It is far too dangerous.”

In an interview last week, the president and CEO of Hamilton’s Chamber of Commerce also welcomed the province’s announcement, but said “there’s no substance behind it” while details are pending.

In an email, Stephen Warner, spokesperson for Ontario’s solicitor general, said the province is working with “a number of large employers to stand up vaccine clinics in hot spot regions.”

There was initially backlash to the announcement that employers would have to fund the clinics themselves. Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it was “absolutely wrong.”

“It is Doug Ford’s responsibility to make sure every Ontarian gets a vaccination,” she said in a news conference. “It’s not up to the employer.”

Asked for details, Warner said employers would be responsible for budgeting the costs.

“The actual costs will vary depending on various factors, including infrastructure and human resources,” he said.

Eligible employers interested in hosting a vaccine clinic can contact the province by covid19vaccinetaskforce@ontario.ca.

Meanwhile, essential workers continue to bear a large brunt of outbreak cases. There are currently 14 active outbreaks in local workplaces and businesses accounting for more than 100 cases. All but three of the outbreaks screened positive for a variant.

Peel and Toronto announced new measures Tuesday to address workplace transmission. Workplaces where five of more cases appear within 14 days — which were “reasonably” transmitted on-site — will be required to close for at least 10 days.

Hamilton doesn’t plan to follow suit right away. In an emailed statement, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said public health works with workplaces on contact tracing, infection prevention and control and case management during outbreaks.

“On a case-by-case basis, if stronger measures are needed, they will be implemented,” said the medical officer of health.

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator