Manitoba teachers can soon head to North Dakota to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Premier Brian Pallister says.
During a press conference Thursday Pallister said teachers and education workers are being added to the list of essential workers cleared to get their shots through a cross-border vaccination agreement set up between the province and its southern neighbour.
“Although there’s a surplus of demand here, there’s no surplus of vaccines, so having the ability to have the partnership with North Dakota is very valuable,” said Pallister.
“We all understand that we have an education system that we have to protect.”
Pallister said details of the program expansion “are being developed as we speak” and didn’t say Thursday when teachers can begin making the trip down south to get their shots.
He said he expects to release more information early next week.
The initiative, announced last week, initially saw commercial truck drivers who regularly travel into the United States given the green light to get their shots at special vaccination sites set up along the highway on the United States side of the border.
Pallister said the aim is to allow teachers to drive to the U.S. border, get a shot on the North Dakota side — where vaccines are plentiful — and immediately drive back home.
“The isolation requirements that are normally there for people when they return from the United States, will not apply,” he said.
He said one location will be on the highway from Winnipeg and another one will hopefully be set up on the highway south of Brandon.
The vaccines cannot just be shipped to Manitoba, as U.S. federal supply rules between the country and the manufacturer do not allow states to distribute their allotments across the border.
Both the U.S. and the Canadian federal governments would be required to broker such a deal.
The shots are being provided at no cost, having been paid for by the U.S. federal government, and will be available via appointments, the province said last week.
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society has called for its members to be prioritized for vaccines and for schools in Winnipeg to move to remote learning due to rising COVID-19 infections.
President James Bedford called Pallister’s initiative a Band-Aid solution.
“I don’t think this is a practical solution to a very real problem,” Bedford said.
Bedford said opening up vaccines across the border would only help teachers who already live close to the crossing but it creates more barriers for others.
“You need a car, you need a passport, you need the right answers to questions you get asked at the border,” he said. “You get your shot, if you get a reaction I suppose it means a hospital stay in North Dakota that will weigh on folks on who picks up the bill for that.”
He said many younger teachers are not eligible for a shot in Manitoba, either because they don’t live or work in hot zones or their age eligibility has not come up and they have other reasons they cannot drive across the border on a weekend.
“Many of those members aged 40 and under have young children at home so are those children to go along on the trip or do I find somebody to look after those children for me,” Bedford said. “That’s a huge challenge these days.”
A spokesperson for North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum told Global News the governor spoke to Pallister about the plan Wednesday and is receptive to the idea.
“Since then, our teams have been working out the details and logistics, and we hope to have more information to release next week,” the spokesperson said by email.
Pallister said teachers over the age of 40 can already be vaccinated along with the general population, and teachers and other front-line workers over 18 in high-risk areas are being prioritized.
–With files from The Canadian Press and Brittany Greenslade
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