Essential workers embrace push for cross-border vaccine access

Truck driver Paul Smith, who regularly drives through Windsor to the U.S., is eager for his turn to get vaccinated. 

Doug Ford has discussed cross-border workers access with Michigan

A view of the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit, a main trade route linking Canada and the United States. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Truck driver Paul Smith, who regularly drives through Windsor, Ont. to the U.S., is eager for his turn to get vaccinated. 

"I'd stop in a minute to get the shot, you know," the Branford resident said.

Getting a shot while in the U.S. — or even before crossing the border in Windsor or at a truckstop — would make the vaccinations more accessible to essential workers like him, he said.

The idea of allowing cross-border essential workers to get vaccinated in the U.S. is something that Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been pushing for with Michigan.

Paul Smith, a truck driver from Brantford, is eager to be vaccinated against COVID-19. (Courtesy Paul Smith)

The premier has spoken to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and a source with knowledge of the situation told CBC News she's indicated openness to hearing more on the idea.

It's now up to Ontario to propose a plan to see if an agreement can be reached. The timeline on next steps was not immediately clear and there is no guarantee such a proposal will go forward.

CBC News has reached out to Ford's office for more details, but has not yet heard back. 

Thousands of cross-border workers live in Windsor-Essex. While many who work at hospitals may have already been offered shots at their workplaces, many others are still waiting for their chance to get a shot, including truck drivers. 

Manitoba and North Dakota have been able to work out such a deal. Truck drivers there are already getting vaccinated stateside.

Leaders had also discussed allowing teachers and education staff to be able to do the same, but that plan is not going ahead. Premier Brian Pallister is instead seeking White House approval to have vaccines sent from North Dakota to Manitoba.

An arrangement where school staff would be able to get vaccinated in the U.S. is appealing to one teachers' union leader in Windsor-Essex. 

"Being a border city, I think we're very used to hopping across the border, it's pretty quick.," said Erin Roy, district 9 president for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation.

"If people, in particular education workers, if they want to get the vaccine any way, shape or form I am on board with it even if it's with our neighbours."

Officials in Windsor have already been pushing to allow residents to receive shots that would otherwise go unused in Detroit. Mayor Drew Dilkens brought up the idea of bringing people across the border by bus to receive a shot.

According to the mayor's office, Windsor pharmacists who work in the U.S. have told Dilkens that vaccines are being wasted in Detroit, since there are multiple doses in a vial and a limited time frame in which to use the product once opened.

Brian Masse, NDP MP for Windsor West, also wants to see excess vaccinations be used for essential workers going into the United States from Canada, he said in an interview earlier this week.

Michigan has vaccinated 51.2 per cent of its residents. State statistics show Detroit has a lower vaccination rate than Windsor-Essex, however. Thirty-two per cent of Detroit residents have received at least one dose, compared with 37.8 per cent locally.

With files from Katerina Georgieva and CBC News


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