Livestock producers and processors are more optimistic now that processing workers and inspectors will be vaccinated as part of Phase Two.
“We recognize first responders, healthcare workers, and those in long-term care must be prioritized in terms of first access to vaccines,” said Rob Lipsett, Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) president. “However, we are thankful meat processing essential workers have been identified as a priority for phase two of the vaccine rollout.”
The livestock and meat production supply chain were some of the hardest-hit sectors in agriculture when COVID-19 hit with worker illness forcing several processing plants across Canada to close, including three closures in Ontario.
Although the sector was quick to invest the necessary funds to implement mitigation and control measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact of those closures created a huge backlog in processing due to reduced capacity.
“Prioritizing workers in meat production and inspection to receive early immunization of the COVID-19 vaccine will help reduce and/or mitigate further disruptions to the meat supply chain, reduce implications for farmers and protect the welfare of animals and the security of our food supply,” said Mike Conlin, president of the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association (OCFA).
AS 2020 came to a close, members of the BFO, OCFA, Canadian Meat Council, Meat and Poultry Ontario, Food and Beverage Ontario, Ontario Pork, Ontario Sheep Farmers, Veal Farmers of Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture called upon the government to recognize meat processing workers and inspectors as essential and the industry a critical essential service.
Phase One of the province’s COVID-19 Immunization Program will see 1.5 million vaccines administered to essential health care workers, staff and residents of long-term care homes, with first doses administered in all LTC homes no later than Feb. 15 and those homes with the highest rates of transmission in Toronto, Peel, York and Windsor Essex by Jan 21.
Phase two is expected to be completed by the end of July 2021 and will include frontline essential workers, such as those in the food processing industry, first responders and educators; those with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers; older adults beginning with those 80 years and above and decreasing in five-year increments over the course of the rollout; and other populations and communities facing barriers related to the determinants of health across the province who are at greater risk.
“We are prepared for the next phase in our vaccine distribution plan, but with limited supplies, our focus will be on vaccinating our seniors and frontline essential workers,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “When Ontario receives sufficient doses of vaccines, we will ensure that every person who wants to be vaccinated will receive it. Until then, everyone must continue to follow the public health guidelines and stay home, stay safe and save lives.”
In preparation for Phase Two more vaccination sites will be added over the coming months to include municipally run vacation sites, hospital sites, mobile vaccination sites, pharmacies, clinics, primary care settings and community locations such as community health centres and aboriginal health access centres.
“Despite the difficult times we find ourselves in, this proves that there is light at the end of the tunnel and, with that in mind, I’m asking everyone to stay strong, stay safe and follow the public health guidelines,” said General (Ret’d) Rick Hillier, chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force.