Some Manitoba teachers find invitation to get vaccinated in North Dakota laughable, ridiculous
Premier's announcement of deal in works with neighbouring state catches educators off-guard
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister's announcement that school workers will be able to drive to North Dakota to get vaccinated doesn't sit well with some teachers — and officials with the state say no such deal has officially been confirmed.
Elementary teacher Katie Hurst calls it a non-solution and says there are many unanswered questions
"I think it's laughable," Hurst said. "I wonder when we're going to have time to drive down to the border, and then.… I wonder if Brian Pallister himself has the extra 12 hours that would take."
Teachers and the union that represents them have been calling on the provincial government to prioritize educators and school workers for vaccination.
Hours after the Manitoba Teachers Society repeated those calls and demanded the province move all Winnipeg schools to remote learning due to rising cases in schools, Pallister made the North Dakota announcement.
During a news conference about a summer jobs program on Thursday, the premier said his government was working on expanding an agreement with North Dakota to ensure all school workers in the province could get vaccinated in the state.
That deal is an extension of a previous plan announced last week to allow Manitoba truck drivers to get immunized in North Dakota.
But a spokesperson with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum's office said on Friday that while the notion was discussed this week, no such deal has officially been struck yet.
Burgum and the premier talked about the arrangement over the phone on Wednesday.
"The governor supports the concept, and we are still working on details and logistics to determine feasibility," the North Dakota spokesperson said via email on Friday.
Isolation exemption still being ironed out
Education Minister Cliff Cullen said Thursday that ideally Manitoba would have enough doses coming from the federal government so it wouldn't have to rely on other jurisdictions.
Pallister said he had been in talks with the federal government and that the mandatory 14-day quarantine rules in place for people returning to Canada wouldn't apply to school workers in this case.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the North Dakota deal on Friday in Ottawa. He said conversations are "still very much ongoing around waiving quarantine requirements."
"That's something I think all Canadians have a little concern around," Trudeau said. "The initial desire to get people who were crossing the border already, like truck drivers and others vaccinated in [North] Dakota, didn't require any waiving of quarantines.… We will continue those conversations."
In the past, Pallister has suggested the pace of vaccine rollout in Manitoba was largely contingent on vaccine supply coming from Ottawa, and not limited by resources or capacity locally to get doses in arms.
A spokesperson with federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Manitoba has received more than 550,000 vaccine doses and it's at the discretion of each province and territory to decide who should get priority access.
"Some provinces have prioritized education workers for vaccines," the emailed statement reads. "We encourage all Canadians to get vaccinated when it's their turn."
Brandon teachers' union in disbelief
The premier released few details about how school workers will navigate the North Dakota process, but he suggested they could drive down on their own time on the weekends.
Pallister said there could be vaccination sites set up just south of the Emerson, Man., border crossing, and at the Peace Gardens, which straddles the the Manitoba-North Dakota border in the southwest.
WATCH | Pallister announces N.D. vaccination plan for teachers:
Cale Dunbar said he was in disbelief, as are some of the teachers contacting him.
"Some have contacted me asking if this is real," said Dunbar, president of the Brandon Teachers' Association.
Dunbar said geographically it would be easier for Brandon teachers than those to the north, but it still isn't convenient.
"Manitoba teachers should be vaccinated in Manitoba," he said.
"Sending Manitobans down to the U.S. just is showing that this government hasn't really done the best job they could with the rollout of the vaccine," said Dunbar.
"We're front-line workers. We're told by Mr. Pallister that we're important and we're crucial to the system running. I wish that they would show that and put us on the priority list."
Winnipeg teacher Mike Moroz thinks the suggestion that school workers should cross the border rather than being prioritized locally is "ridiculous."
"Seems like it was made up on the way to the press conference," he said. "It just doesn't add any sense of security … at all to the teachers."
Manitoba currently has a geographical model that extends vaccine priority to adults who live in high-risk neighbourhoods. Teachers and other workers in public-facing jobs in those areas are also eligible, whether or not they live there.
With files from Wendy Jane Parker and Marina von Stackelberg