Move over truckers and teachers, child-care workers are being added to the list of Manitobans who will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in North Dakota.
In an email from the provincial government (Manitoba Families) Friday, daycare staff were told they would be included in the "essential worker cross-border vaccination initiative."
The plan, announced by Premier Brian Pallister and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on April 20, allows Manitoba truckers who regularly drive in the U.S., to receive COVID-19 vaccinations at specific sites in that state. On Thursday, at a news conference about summer jobs, Pallister announced Manitoba school staff would be included in the North Dakota vaccination campaign. The details were to be released this week.
"When we have more to say on such initiatives, the media will be made aware," a spokeswoman for the premier wrote in an email Tuesday.
Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, said a circular from the province sent to its members was "vague," but it is her understanding that child-care staff who work in school settings would have the same prioritization as teachers.
Association members have expressed concerns — which are similar to those of the Manitoba Teachers' Society — about the logistics and risk of sending members south of the border to get vaccinated, Kehl said.
"If there are vaccines available here in Manitoba, all early learning and child-care staff should be prioritized for eligibility immediately," she said. They've been advocating since December for all child-care providers to be prioritized for vaccination — but here in Manitoba, said Kehl.
Some child-care managers have expressed concerns about their staff having to go to North Dakota on the weekends for vaccines when the province has unused doses in Manitoba, she said. Even if the federal government waived the 14-day quarantine requirement, some facilities managers may decide on their own to impose it on their workers. "If programs have to temporarily close down because of this, it would cause additional and unnecessary hardship on children and families," she said.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said expecting underpaid early childhood educators to drive to North Dakota to get vaccinated is "very unreasonable."
"We don't pay early childhood educators near what they're worth as it is," Kinew said Tuesday. "Now, for the (Progressive Conservatives) to be asking these folks to take those precious resources that they do have and spend it to participate in a vaccination campaign that rightly should be serving them here in Manitoba, it just doesn't make a lot of sense," Kinew said.
Manitoba officials have not ruled out North Dakota sending some of its surplus doses to Manitoba to vaccinate school and childcare staff closer to home in this province.
"Our government will take every possible step it can to get Manitobans vaccinated as quickly and safely as possible," the premier's spokeswoman said Tuesday.
"We did this by procuring additional Moderna vaccine for First Nations in January, establishing a special initiative for vaccinating Manitoba-based truckers faster in North Dakota, and now, exploring ways to get more Manitoba teachers and educational staff vaccinated more quickly than federal vaccine supply currently allows."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.