Manitoba

Winnipeg mayor, police chief renew calls for police officers to get COVID-19 vaccination priority

Winnipeg's mayor and the police service are renewing calls for front-line police officers in the province to be prioritized in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

Police officers want to be grouped together with paramedics in vaccine rollout

Mayor Brian Bowman and Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth want to see front-line police officers prioritized for vaccines. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC )

Winnipeg's mayor and the city's police service are renewing calls for front-line police officers to be prioritized in Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

"We are just strongly encouraging our province to really support our Winnipeg police and other police services, because they're part of the solution," Mayor Brian Bowman said in a news conference on Monday.

"They're the ones that are protecting us, and we need them vaccinated as soon as possible."

At the beginning of January, paramedics in Manitoba started to become eligible for priority vaccination, but police officers are grouped in with the general public.

"Many of our fire-paramedic service staff have been able to book vaccines and start getting their shots, but it doesn't include our Winnipeg police officers, who … are routinely doing work in the community, exposed to people with COVID-19," Bowman said.

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth agrees, and said police officers should be placed within the same category as paramedics.

Police Chief Danny Smyth wants to see police officers grouped in with paramedics in the vaccination rollout. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

In February, Smyth met with members of the provincial government to advocate for front-line police officers, who he says have "in essence been left off the Manitoba COVID-19 pandemic plan."

"It was clear that the absence of front-line police officers could only be attributed to a lack of understanding of the role police officers, as first responders, are playing within the Manitoba pandemic response," he told the Manitoba Association of Chiefs of Police in a letter on March 15.

Smyth says he's raised the issue in meetings with the province three times since the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, the city's assistant chief of emergency management said he wants more clarity on when other essential workers, such as Winnipeg Transit drivers, will be vaccinated.

"If you want to keep an economy moving, you need your transit and we need our transit operators vaccinated as soon as possible," Jay Shaw said at Monday's news conference.

"It's critically important. As we see more variants of concern, the risk is increasing."

Vaccine eligibility for members of the general public in Manitoba is based on age. As of Monday, Manitobans 64 and over, and First Nations people 44 and over, are eligible to receive the immunization.

Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of Manitoba's Vaccine Implementation Task Force, says that's the best way to ensure people who are most at risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19 are protected.

While health-care workers have been prioritized for vaccination, "thankfully, for most types of essential workers, we're not seeing increases in hospitalization or death," Reimer said at Monday's COVID-19 update from provincial health officials.

For other essential workers, "whether it's police or teachers or hydro workers or water treatment plant workers … we are really proud to have seen how they've responded during the pandemic and continue to go to work despite being put at risk when they're working with other people every day, sometimes in uncontrolled situations," she said.

"We need to prioritize the people whose lives are at highest risk. So to all essential workers, I think everybody on the vaccine task force and in public health wants to thank you for all the work that you've done that allows us to get this vaccine to people who are at the highest risk of experiencing those severe outcomes."

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