The Alberta government has announced a plan to vaccinate workers at meat-processing plants across the province in order to protect them from COVID-19 and prevent further spread of the virus. Over the next few months, vaccinations will be offered to more than 15,000 meat-packing plant employees at 136 federal and provincial plants across Alberta, according to an Alberta government press release.
Harmony Beef, a meat-processing plant in East Balzac, is eager to see the immunization of its workers this week, according to company spokesman Crosbie Cotton
“Workers are by far our greatest asset, so we are tremendously excited that they will be vaccinated on May 6,” Cotton said. “We’re working with Alberta Health Services and we will do everything possible to safeguard our workers.”
Cotton added Harmony Beef has “led the industry” in taking steps to protect workers against the virus. said the plant was one of the first to employ added safety measures when the pandemic hit, including daily temperature checks, a special app for employees to test themselves before coming in to work and dividers being set up between workstations.
“This is another tremendous leap forward for our plant,” he said.
The urgency to inoculate employees comes after several COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-packing plants across Alberta. Two of Alberta’s largest outbreaks throughout the pandemic occurred at the Cargill Protein meat-processing plant in High River and JBS Canada’s facility in Brooks.
Harmony Beef has had three outbreaks of its own. In early May 2020, 37 cases were confirmed at the Balzac-based plant, while a second outbreak in August was reported with more than 60 cases.
A third outbreak was detected at Harmony Beef in November 2020, with 19 reported infections. According to Cotton, that outbreak came after a long weekend, when many of the plant's workers were subject to increased exposure.
“No one could have expected what happened, but we are so excited that Alberta Health Services is working with us to get vaccinated and make sure the food supply is maintained,” he said.
“We have our fingers crossed that we will protect our employees working with Alberta Health Services and we will not stop until we can do everything possible for their safety.”
According to the government's press release, workers at federal meat-packing plants in Alberta will be vaccinated via Primary Care Network clinics, public health clinics or linkages to local pharmacies or AHS immunization sites. After the clinics have been completed, workers who have not yet been vaccinated will be provided with a letter from their employer, which they can take to any eligible clinic or pharmacy to receive their vaccination.
“We continue to progress through Phase 2C of Alberta’s vaccine rollout as quickly as vaccine supply from the federal government allows,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a government press release. “I’m glad that we can now offer vaccines to protect these [valuable] workers who contribute so much to Alberta’s and the entire country’s food supply system.”As vaccine shipments continue to arrive, Kenney said the government’s focus will be getting Albertans at risk of severe outcomes “vaccinated as quickly as possible.”