Minister defends B.C. vaccine rollout despite few details and surprise shots

By now, many people in B.C. know a construction worker, dental hygienist or even office worker who’s received a COVID-19 vaccine – but the Ministry of Health isn’t providing a list of companies where employees have been offered immunization.

At some businesses, workers told CTV News they were surprised to learn they were eligible for a vaccine.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix echoed the same rationale the province’s top doctor had invoked a day earlier when asked about why certain businesses and workers were getting vaccinated ahead of other occupations, which was in line with the policy outlined for essential workers and discussed for many weeks.

“It's because they're more vulnerable and they've been determined to be more vulnerable to the transmission of COVID-19 because of circumstances in their workplace,” Dix said, adding that could mean a significant outbreak. “It's not because of the work they do."

Fraser Health said employees at a Costco in Port Coquitlam were vaccinated over the weekend due to a COVID-19 cluster that required an aggressive response, while a glass manufacturer in Langley where 44 people were infected saw the remaining workers vaccinated to prevent further spread.

But CTV News spoke with a Langley agricultural company that was surprised Fraser Health offered to test and vaccinate all their employees with the Pfizer vaccine, despite there only having been a handful of infections.

“They wanted to come on site to do a mass vaccination event for all of our employees and I kind of got the impression that even though we’d (only) had a few, five or eight employees that tested positive in the last month to month-and-a-half, that was enough for them to be concerned,” said Burnaby Lake Greenhouses CFO, Robert Van Der Ende. “They gave everyone a card with an indication of what the vaccine was, it was the Pfizer one, and the card said that in four months time that’s the recommended date for your second follow-up shot.”

That was frustrating news to the B.C. Teachers' Federation, whose president wants more answers about the process.

“What is the plan, was is the criteria for vaccinating different companies?” said Teri Mooring. “I don't doubt there is a rationale, but the public deserves to know what it is. What is the criteria being used for targeting different companies and other workplaces for vaccinations and not schools?"

Several schools have had to close completely due to multiple COVID-19 exposures at once, while others have seen several exposure notifications.

CTV News asked the Ministry of Health why schools weren’t eligible for the same kind of vaccinations prompted by outbreaks at other workplaces, and whether they would provide the list of companies who’ve been offered vaccinations. We were told a list would be available in the coming days.

Based on the government criteria, which prioritizes situations like work camps with group living accommodations, food processing plants and agricultural workplaces, frontline police aren’t eligible – even though COVID is starting to have an impact on their operations.

Ralph Kaisers, president of the Vancouver Police Union, said last weekend, a patrol team member tested positive over the weekend, which resulted in several officers having to stay home.

"We’ve lost 1,658 shifts to COVID by way of being positive and or having to having to isolate because you've been exposed to someone who has, so it's certainly having an effect on our organization," Kaisers said.

The National Police Federation, which represents RCMP officers, said thousands of Mounties have been sidelined due to possible exposure.

“To date, just over 2,400 RCMP employees across B.C. have had to isolate for the required two-week period," wrote a spokesperson, adding that 80 per cent of those have only had to isolate once. “The remaining 20 per cent have unfortunately had to do so two or more times.”

Dix insisted that they’re considering a range of occupations and issues as they decide how to use incoming AstraZeneca vaccines, which will be administered in a vaccination program parallel to the age-based rollout already underway.

"Obviously one of the groups we'll be considering in that process are police officers and I won't say anything more than that because we're a couple of days away from releasing that information," he said. “We want to use it all and we want to use it in a way that keeps people safe."

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