Haldimand-Norfolk has vaccinated hundreds of migrant farm workers for COVID-19
Dr. Yaffe says Ontario is planning a pilot project to give workers shots at the Toronto airport
Health officials in Haldimand and Norfolk have already administered roughly 340 COVID-19 vaccines to temporary farm workers, and plan to administer hundreds more by the end of the week.
The shots are going into arms as farmers wait for the federal and provincial government to release details of their strategies to ensure migrant workers, whose role is essential to Canada's food security, will be kept safe.
Two pilot clinics for workers who have completed their mandated 14-day quarantine have been completed, according to Kyra Hayes, Haldimand County's supervisor for corporate affairs.
"Approximately 340 workers have been vaccinated so far," she said in an email. "Another 260 migrant farm workers are scheduled to receive vaccines by the end of this week."
The province authorized the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit to vaccinate the workers, and gave extra doses "in order to vaccinate this vulnerable population and protect the community," Hayes said.
The health unit has issued a section 22 order limiting the number of people isolating in the same bunkhouse to three, regardless of floor space. The order also says farm workers can only be transported from the airport in groups of three, rather than by the bus-load. Both have been a source of contention in the counties.
Health officials have said the rules are meant to protect workers, but farmers fears it will severely impact the 2021 growing season. On March 23, farmers gathered at a tractor rally to protest the regulation.
Federal officials, including Canada's Health Minister Patty Hajdu, have said the vaccine strategy, including for farm workers, is up to the province and local health officials.
At the end of March, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) said it was talking to the federal government about the best way to offer the shots to farm workers.
Phase 2 of the province's vaccine rollout, which started this month, will include agri-farm workers, depending on supply, OMAFRA said at the time.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday that the province is working on a pilot project of its own to vaccinate migrant workers at the airport.
Yaffe shared few other details, except that the project could potentially start this week.
"Temporary farm workers ... are at increased risk because of the settings that they're going into, and so we want to make sure we get them vaccinated before they go there and make sure they're as protected as possible."
Advocacy group says shots must be consensual
Ensuring the safety of workers is something Chris Ramsaroop has also been pushing for as an organizer with Justice for Migrant Workers.
The advocacy group believes shots for farm workers are "critical" and there's "no question" they should be vaccinated.
But Ramsaroop said he has some concerns too.
"We have to ensure that workers aren't being coerced or compelled in this process," he said.
Workers should not face reprisals, including being fired, because of their stance on vaccines, he said.
He stressed a consensual process with "real conversation about why this is important."