Plans underway for COVID-19 vaccination clinic at southern Alberta meat-packing plant

Vaccinations for the elderly over 80 start in the vaccination centers set up in Corigliano-Rossano and in other centers in Calabria, Italy on March 24, 2021. Alfonso Di Vincenzo / Kontrolab / IPA / ABACAPRESS.COM

High River’s Cargill meat-packing plant will soon be the site of a COVID-19 vaccination clinic, Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced Thursday morning.

AHS, the Alberta International Medical Graduates Association and the Highland, Mosaic and Calgary Rural primary care networks are partnering in the effort, with the planning process currently underway.

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Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary and researcher at the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, said the rise in variant cases in the province “has dramatically changed the playing field.”

“What we know now that we didn’t know then is that COVID is airborne,” Fabreau, whose work includes health of refugee and underserved populations, said.

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“The risk of transmission in a meat plant is almost ideal: you’re putting thousands of workers indoors in close quarters, where it’s loud so you have to shout, the work is hard so you have to breathe hard, there’s a lot of metallic surfaces and ventilation is likely inadequate for what we need.”

Fabreau provided scientific evidence in meetings with employers, AHS and newcomer-focused organizations to advocate for a targeted immunization program at sites like meat-packing plants that are over-represented by immigrants and newcomers.

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“There’s mounting evidence to support targeting high-risk locations and essential frontline workers,” Fabreau told Global News. “All of them will help to dramatically reduce the chains of transmission.

“If it works well, we hope that it can provide the playbook for other large workplaces.”

Cargill occupational health nurses will be providing the jabs and AHS will be supplying the COVID-19 immunization vials. AHS also offered public health nursing staff to help train Cargill nurses, and AHS and PCNs will provide support with scheduling and clinic flow.

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Immunization at the Cargill meat-packing plant will be part of Phase 2C of the province’s vaccine roll-out plan, estimated to begin this month.

Fabreau will help with the voluntary immunization program at the Cargill plant, along with newcomer-oriented organizations who will help with on-site translation.

In a press release, the provincial health authority said it “will look to expand this pilot to other meat-processing plants in the coming weeks, as our vaccine supply becomes more consistent.”

Fabreau said jabs are expected to begin on April 20 and continue for a few days, with the aim to get shots in all of the Cargill employees’ arms.

He said “it may be one of the first and largest mobile workplace vaccination programs in the country.

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“This is what health equity is,” Fabreau said. “When you know that there are increased barriers for some people, it behooves the health system to try to address those barriers to ensure that people are protected who are faced with what we know now is a very increased risk.”

The High River plant south of Calgary was the site of a major COVID-19 outbreak last year. Nearly half of the 2,200 workers at the Cargill facility, which shut down for two weeks last April, contracted the virus. Three deaths were linked to the outbreak.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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