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Coronavirus: Local Okanagan unions react to latest COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan

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Local Okanagan unions react to latest immunization schedule – Mar 19, 2021

While some Okanagan unions are happy with the latest COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan announced by the province, others are feeling left behind.

Teachers and other kindergarten to Grade 12 educational staff will now be eligible to receive the Astra-Zeneca vaccine for COVID-19 in April.

“It was welcome news. Teachers have been advocating for this for an awful long time,” Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association president Susan Bauhart said.

Read more: B.C. reports 737 new cases of COVID-19, highest daily total since Jan. 7

Bauhart believes immunizing employees will help make schools safer while giving staff and students more peace of mind.

But she still expects masks to keep their place in the classroom — at least for a while.

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“We’ve been advocating for masks and that has not changed,” she said. “Absolutely, it’s a layer of protection, and again, some teachers don’t feel it’s necessary.”

Read more: B.C. COVID-19 vaccination information: Contacts, timelines and what you need to know

But she said generally speaking, teachers are happy the extra layer of protection is still there, particularly with the variant.

First responders, grocery store and postal workers and child care staff are just some of the other priority workers who are now in line for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But local bus drivers are not included.

“I was totally flabbergasted, as were all our drivers, that transit drivers were not included in this list of people,” said Al Peressini, president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union.

Read more: 1-on-1 with Dr. Bonnie Henry: Looking back at one year of COVID-19 pandemic

Peressini said he plans to keep the pressure on the province, hoping that health officials will reconsider their decision to exclude bus drivers.

“We have a driver’s shield, but the air on the bus is just recirculated, so it keeps going around and around inside,” he added.

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Truck drivers also won’t be prioritized for the vaccine, unless they drive across the border.

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“And this is where it gets a little challenging, in terms of how do we figure out which drivers are actually going cross-border,” said Dave Earle, BC Trucking Association’s president and CEO.

Although regional drivers often stop at several communities, safety protocols are in place and appear to be working, Earle said.

“What we’ve always said all along is that data has to guide our decisions. As we get to this end, the success story in our industry is transmission rates have been remarkably low,” he added.

Front-line priority workers are being asked not to call their local health authority.

The province said these vaccine appointments will be organized by their employer.

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