Essential workers in Ottawa ready for vaccination

Cases of COVID-19 in the capital are skyrocketing. The city’s top doctor warning the curve has only worsened since moving into the red zone. According to some medical experts, this is the pandemic within the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This isn’t necessarily a new pandemic but it's a new pandemic within the existing pandemic. The face of the disease has changed, the crisis within the hospitals is of a different, more urgent nature,” epidemiologist Dr. Raywat Deonandan said.

Deonandan says the new variant running rampant around the capital is more transmissible, often targeting younger people and frequently transmitting in places of work.

“The shift in the target demographic of the virus has been very stark. The people being infected are younger and they tend to have a harder time once they get infected,” Deonandan said.

Marie-Josée Marleau is well aware of the spread of the virus. The Grade 4 teacher has watched it infect students and teachers at schools across the city, including her own.

“I’m worried about bringing it to my boys. I have an 18-month-old and a four-year-old and if my husband and I get it then who takes care of the kids,” Marleau said.

Marleau says she loves being in the classroom and says that even though her school has supported staff throughout the pandemic, she still worries about the danger posed by the spread of variants.

“Schools have to be open, kids need an education and I’m all for that, but we’re also front-line as well, so why not vaccinate us,” she asked.

Teachers, along with other essential workers in Ontario, are part of the second phase of the vaccine rollout. Phase 2, which begins in April, aims to get essential workers vaccinated by July.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Solicitor General told CTV News Dr. Homer Tien, the president and CEO of Ornge Air Ambulance, would take over from retired General Rick Hillier as the operational lead of the COVID-19 Distribution Task Force, adding “as part of Phase 2, the province will vaccinate frontline workers.”

No timetable was provided but Dr. Deonandan says the sooner the better.

“The new variants are so hyper-transmissible that the stakes are much higher. So we would not only protect the essential worker, we would protect their families,” he said.

A concern shared by not only teachers but also those who were heralded as the heroes of the pandemic one year ago: grocery clerks.

“We’re kind of risking our lives in a way, even though we are protected to the best we can, I think we should be prioritized,” Costco cashier Dave Ross said.

According to Dr. Deonandan, vaccinating those on the front lines is one of the most important ways Ontario can tackle the pandemic.

“People who cannot distance and are not given the tools to protect themselves must be given this most important tool, the tool of vaccination.”