B.C. putting 1,400 furloughed tourism, hospitality employees to work in immunization clinics
VICTORIA -- The B.C. government is putting hundreds of furloughed employees from the hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors back to work through its immunization program.
Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday that some 1,400 workers are being placed in non-clinical positions at the province's vaccination centres, helping with B.C.'s recently accelerated immunization rollout.
Horgan thanked the furloughed employees for their participation, and acknowledged the crucial contributions of hundreds of volunteers who have also joined the mass vaccination efforts in their communities.
"I am so proud of the work that everyone across the province has been doing to get out of the situation we've been in for the last 12 months," he said.
"All of us are tired of this. But we are not out of the woods yet, we have several more miles to go before we rest."
There are 14 businesses and organizations partnering on the project, including everyone from Air Canada to the Vancouver Canucks to Tourism Whistler, Horgan said.
There have been a number of hopeful developments in B.C.'s vaccination program in recent weeks, including the arrival of AstraZeneca vaccine doses that are being used to protect front-line workers.
Increased shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have also allowed the province to speed up the timeline for its age-based immunization program, with a goal of vaccinating every eligible adult before July.
Horgan said the cohort of B.C. residents aged 65-69 will be able to book a vaccine appointment by the end of the first week of April.
But there have also been concerns raised about some countries considering holding back vaccine exports, and what that could mean for Canada's supply. Reuters has reported that India wants to pause shipments of AstraZeneca because of a rising number of local COVID-19 cases, and the European Union has said it wants to ensure member countries have their "due share" of vaccine.
While Horgan acknowledged Canada is "in the hands of international suppliers," he offered some reassurances Wednesday.
"My office has been in touch with the federal government today on both the India issue as well as the EU issue. We're assured by the prime minister's office that it's full steam ahead," he said.
B.C. has now administered more than 580,000 doses of vaccine, with enough first doses to cover nearly 10 per cent of the population. The distribution has been ramping up, with upwards of 25,000 shots given out from Tuesday to Wednesday.
Horgan pointed to the recent mass immunization effort in Prince Rupert as an example of the province's growing capabilities.
Health officials decided earlier this month to offer vaccine to every resident as the small community of about 10,000 grappled with an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.
Horgan said about 85 per cent of people have now received a dose of vaccine.
"There's euphoria in the town that has been in dread, quite frankly, over the past number of weeks," he said.
The furloughed workers who are being stationed in immunization clinics will be doing things like welcoming guests and managing the flow of patients, according to Dr. Penny Ballem, the head of B.C.'s vaccine rollout.
Some of the other companies taking part include WestJet, Vancouver International Airport, the Vancouver Giants, the Fraser Valley Bandits and the Pacific National Exhibition.
"These are companies that have suffered significantly in the last year of this pandemic (with) many, many workers laid off and unable to do their jobs," she said. "We are just extremely grateful to have them stepping forward and bringing their incredible skills."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan