Ontario would like to see migrant farm workers vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they arrive and is willing to take on the task if Ottawa doesn’t, a top provincial health official said Thursday.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer of health, said the province is in talks with the federal government to have the temporary foreign workers given a vaccine “when they come in, optimally at the airport.”
“We’re working with the federal government on this, hopefully, they will be OK to do it,” Yaffe told reporters. “If they don’t do it, we will probably do it because it’s important.” During the first wave of the pandemic, dozens of farm outbreaks were reported across Ontario as the province struggled to test and isolate workers. More than 1,780 temporary foreign workers tested positive for COVID-19 in the province last year, and three died of the virus.
Advocates, doctors and labor groups have been calling on all levels of government to ensure the vaccination of all migrant and undocumented workers. Yaffe said vaccinating migrant farm workers on arrival would involve many considerations, including ensuring information is properly translated so workers can understand that the immunization process is voluntary.
Some 20,000 temporary foreign workers are employed on Ontario farms each year. Farm workers are currently set to be vaccinated in the second phase of Ontario’s vaccine rollout, set to begin next month.
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