‘It’s imperative that we prioritize essential workers’
Canada’s first on-site workplace immunization clinic is opening at the Cargill meat-packing plant, where more than 2,000 workers will be offered shots.
The High River facility was home to the country’s largest COVID-19 outbreak last spring when nearly 950 workers were infected, representing roughly half of the plant’s workforce. The site is currently facing another outbreak.
Alberta Health Services said plans are underway to establish the clinic, in collaboration with the Alberta International Medical Graduates Association and the Highland, Mosaic and Calgary rural primary care networks.
Calgary physician Annalee Coakley, who is assisting in the pilot project, said the Cargill clinic helps remove numerous barriers to health care faced by many working in essential services.
Coakley said workers at meat-packing plants often have multiple jobs, meaning they don’t have enough time to access off-site vaccination clinics and can face challenges related to language barriers, transportation and difficulty with Alberta’s online booking tool.
“It’s imperative that we prioritize essential workers,” she said.
“I feel like our essential workers — meat-packing plant workers, by far — have suffered a huge burden of illness with COVID-19. With that, there are the economic consequences for both the worker and their family, but also to the company, the local economy and Alberta as a whole.”
A handful of local organizations have partnered with health-care professionals to address cultural and language barriers during the vaccination process, added Coakley.
Workers at Alberta meat-packing facilities are eligible under Phase 2C for vaccination, according to the province. Although “nothing is set in stone” because of supply, it’s expected the High River site could begin offering doses of the Pfizer vaccine during the week of April 20.
AHS said shots will be administered by occupational health nurses employed by Cargill, who are being offered training by pubic health nursing staff. AHS and their partners will be on-site to support the delivery process.
“Cargill is working on the administrative process for the operation of these clinics, including management of supplies and orienting the Cargill nursing team,” AHS said in a statement.
“Dates and times for these clinics will be determined by the timing of Phase 2C rollout and vaccine availability. AHS will ensure adequate vaccine supply is provided for each clinic.”
The provincial health authority said they hope to expand the pilot to other meat-processing plants in the coming weeks, depending on vaccine supply.
“In Alberta, we’ve dealt with really difficult logistical situations in the past, whether it be the (Calgary) flood or the fire in Fort McMurray. We’ve dealt with difficult challenges and, to me, this is an easy challenge,” said Coakley.
“I think we can actually be a model for the rest of Canada.”
More to come…