OTA Member Update: Regional, Provincial, and Federal COVID-Vaccination Update

Earlier this year, the Government of Ontario announced that the trucking industry, under transportation and warehousing, would be given priority to vaccine distribution. The expectation at the time was the transportation/warehousing sector would receive their vaccinations in the June-July timeframe. Since that time many events have occurred, including the rapid growth of the virus in certain “hot-spots” throughout the province.

The focus of vaccinations on hot-spots and certain employment classifications, like educational workers, have created policy changes in the vaccination distribution strategy. OTA has adapted to that strategy by reaching out to the Medical Officers of Health in the defined hot-spots : Regional Municipality of York, Durham Region, Halton Region, Hamilton, Niagara, Ottawa, Simcoe-Muskoka, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin Guelph, Windsor-Essex, Toronto, South Western Region, and Region of Peel.

In its communication to the Medical Officers of Health, OTA has recommended the following:

  • It is important for all regions to consider that not all truckers perform the same type of work. In simple terms, drivers can be considered to be part of three main groups. (1) Class A licence holders, which typically travel using large tractor-trailers, including long-haul drivers, who are often away from home for extended periods; (2) Class D licence holders, who typically drive what the industry calls straight trucks; (3) Class G commercial drivers, who tend to drive smaller commercial vehicles, including large delivery vans. Aside from these three general classes of drivers, there are also office and sales staff, and other groups such as dock/warehouse workers, mechanics, and other employees that work at the terminal. Together, all of these workers perform important functions within the transportation industry and supply chain and should all be a priority within Phase two.
  • Class A licence holders are part of one group the regions should consider paying special attention to. We ask for this consideration not because there is an immediate health crisis within this group, but, rather, because of the unique nature of their schedules. As noted, this group will include long-haul drivers who often have radically different working hours than common 9-to-5 workers. We suggest the region consider giving priority access to these specific Class A licence holders on weekends (when many of the drivers are home to rest). When compared to Class D and G licence holders, along with terminal/office staff, Class A licence holders will generally have much less flexibility to schedule appointments around their work cycles and therefore should be made a priority when they are able to book an appointment.
  • While it’s easy to verify if someone is a commercial driver by their licence, OTA would recommend that should there be a need for office staff, a document like a simple letter from their employer should suffice in verifying they work in the transportation industry. If this is not acceptable, OTA would be willing to discuss alternate options with the regions as well.
  • Given that a large proportion of our sector is away from home for extended periods of time and are generally less flexible in their schedules compared to workers in other sectors, it may be worthwhile for the regions to consider special accommodations for certain vaccination sites to whatever extent possible. For example, this could include setting up within or near areas of the region with a large trucking presence, truck stops or dispatching mobile units to individual companies. It could also be advantageous to designate certain locations (like large vaccination centres) and certain times (‘trucking weekends’) to help promote the region’s efforts with our industry. If drivers know well in advance they will be prioritized on certain weekends, this will give both the drivers and their companies time to plan their drivers’ trip.

While OTA will be working with the various regions that choose to work with the association on the above strategies, it is also important for members to track changes in their respective regions regarding policy changes to vaccination priorities. For example, in York Region residents aged 45-54 in high priority communities (postal codes L4L, L6A, L4K, L4J and L3s) are currently eligible to book a vaccination appointment at york.ca/covid19vaccine. Any employees who live in one of the postal code areas and are between the ages of 45-54 are currently eligible to book an appointment. OTA will continue to post this type of information from all regions in its newsletter/website as it becomes available. Members who have questions or updated information of a similar nature from their region are asked to send an e-mail to lak.shoan@ontruck.org.

For the most updated information on the provincial vaccination policy please visit: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/ontarios-covid-19-vaccination-plan

On a related matter, OTA has recently been made aware of situations involving commercial vehicle drivers who were denied access to a vaccine appointment in certain regions because they are cross-border drivers. As OTA understands, these individuals met the age requirements to be vaccinated, but were told that because they had crossed the border with the United States, they would not be eligible to receive a vaccine unless they quarantined for at least two weeks prior to making an appointment. OTA has reached out to those regions and the policy has now been adjusted to ensure no truck drivers are denied access to the vaccine for merely crossing the border. The Province of Ontario has also committed to contacting all medical officers to prevent further occurrences of truck drivers being denied access to the vaccine for crossing the border. If your drivers are denied access to the vaccine for no other reason than they crossed the border for work, please contact lak.shoan@ontruck.org and provide him with the details including location of vaccination centre where the driver was denied.

The Government of Canada recently hosted an information session regarding the COVID vaccination. The Canadian Trucking Alliance forwarded a number of questions in advance of this session. Below are some of the questions that were answered during the Q/A period.

If you have a question that is not listed below, please e-mail lak.shoan@ontruck.org and staff will endeavor to get the answers. Additional information from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on the vaccines will continue to be published once available.

PHAC has also provided some additional materials to distribute regarding COVID-19:

Will drivers be included as frontline workers and get priority access to the vaccine?

The federal government can only make national recommendations, but the decisions on which groups of people/sectors/essential workers etc. get priority access will continue to be made by the provinces and territories.

Will drivers be able to get access to their second shot of the vaccine within 21 days of their first? Canada seems to be the only country following the four-month policy for the second dose.

The current four-month policy is consistent with what has been implemented in the United Kingdom based on how well a single dose has worked. Extending the interval between doses offers good protection for as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and will help to decrease community transmission rapidly.

In some instances, there is a better immune response with the delayed interval, but a person is not as well protected between the first and second dose. It will not take four months for most people to obtain the second dose of the vaccine, a process which will begin in mid-June for some people.

Is PHAC considering a vaccine passport to travel across Canada (within provinces) and into the US?

This topic continues to be discussed within the federal government, although no decisions have been made. There are competing opinions and considerations about how this may infringe human rights, while balancing the needs of public health.

Would it be correct to call the vaccine a “shot” more along the lines of a flu shot, as opposed to a vaccine, such as for measles or polio?

The words vaccines/shots/immunization can all be used interchangeably and help the body respond to the threat of a virus. The research is still very new regarding whether the vaccine will be needed every year, how long two doses of the vaccine will last, and how they will work against new variants. There is also the possibility that periodic booster shots may be required.

Can a person that is vaccinated still pass the virus on to others in the infectious stage?

Vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna are 90-95 percent effective against symptomatic and asymptomatic infection/spread; they will also prevent transmission, but they are not perfect. There will continue to be people who become infected after vaccination, but with a much smaller risk of spreading the virus.