BC Cattlemen’s Association General Manager Kevin Boon says it’s welcomed sight meatpacking workers in Alberta are about to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccines will be offered to 15-thousand workers at 136 federal and provincial plants in that province.

Boon explains why this is crucial to our industry in BC.

“It’s very important to us here in British Columbia that those plants in Alberta do get vaccinated so that those plants can continue to work because the major source of our protein from beef cattle for sure is coming out of those Alberta plants.”

“They have the lion’s share of what I will call megapackers out there where they are doing as much in a shift at a Cargill plant as what our processing plant would do in a week.”

Workers in BC’s food-processing industry were prioritized for immunization back in March.

Boon says facilities with over 50 workers have already been vaccinated – however, due to the recommendation changes surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine, the parallel worker program has been paused temporarily.

“My understanding was is that a lot of the smaller processing plants were given a little higher priority than the normal people. It’s really based on the risk within those facilities for the workers to protect them.”

While the expectation in BC and across Canada is that restrictions will be lifted to a certain degree, Boon doesn’t expect the distancing or masking measures to disappear completely at food processing facilities in our province.

“I don’t think the protocols are going to go away real quick. We are getting used to working under that and it is becoming a way where we can be as efficient and in some cases more efficient so I don’t see those changing a whole bunch.”

In addition, Boon tipped his cap to the transport truck drivers who are staying healthy and on the road during this pandemic making sure all food products head to grocery stores.

“And I will tell you what, I will take my hat off for them for doing what they are doing.”

The Ministry of Health provided this bulletin for Vista Radio on the current vaccination efforts for food processing and meatpacking workers:

Workers in the food-processing industry, which includes meat-packing plant workers, are prioritized for immunization in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan, through the province’s parallel worker program.

The first shipment of the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine was deployed in March in B.C. to protect people in workplaces identified as having the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission, including:

  • food processing plants, including poultry, fruit, and fish processing;
  • agricultural operations with congregate worker accommodations, including farms, nurseries, and greenhouses; and
  • large industrial camps with congregate accommodations for workers.

This included select food processing plants, identified based on occurrence of outbreak/ transmissions.

Following changes in recommendations around the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March, the province’s parallel worker program was temporarily paused. Right now, public health is administering vaccine to protect workers in transmission hot spots. People in the food-processing industry are a priority group for vaccination, with timeline dependent on vaccine supply.

Dr. Henry provided an update on this in today’s COVID-19 update:

“We’ve had great success in the number of our high-risk industries where we have focused on our temporary farm workers, making sure they’re protected so that they can do those essential work. The fact that we’ve been able to immunize all of the large food processing plants in the province. Those are real successes and sometimes it seems like it’s all over the place and it’s everybody but us, but each person, each community, each business where we are able to protect people that way is good for all of us.”