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Montreal to Open Vaccination Slots for Essential Workers, but Not Restaurant and Grocery Store Employees

They aren’t part of the 150,000 essential workers eligible to book appointments starting Friday

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As of this Friday, certain essential workers on the island of Montreal will be authorized to book an appointment to get vaccinated against COVID-19, health minister Christian Dubé announced at a press conference this morning. Those eligible include firefighters, police officers, school staff, slaughterhouse workers, and prison guards — but not the thousands who’ve been stocking shelves in grocery stores or operating restaurant takeout counters throughout the pandemic.

When asked during the question period how Quebec had determined which workers would be prioritized for vaccination, public health director Horacio Arruda, sitting alongside Dubé, explained that it was a balancing act that took into account the history of workplace outbreaks in the province, the level of risk associated with certain types of work, and the number of vaccines currently at their disposal.

“It’s not about determining who is more essential. We don’t really like the word ‘essential.’ We prefer saying ‘workers that are at risk of exposing others or cannot protect themselves,’” Arruda said (originally in French). “There’s no value judgement.”

Arruda assured that as the amount of available vaccines increases, so will the number of workers who will get their turn. However, it wasn’t clear whether he meant as part of a potential second cohort of essential workers or simply as part of the general population, Group 10 on Quebec’s published vaccine priority scheme.

In Montreal, indoor and outdoor dining has been stalled since October 1, but restaurants have remained partially open for takeout and delivery operations throughout, meaning workers, even if wearing protective gear, are still interacting with the public daily. These workers (including third-party delivery drivers) have been repeatedly deemed essential throughout the pandemic, including being permitted to operate during the province’s nightly curfew.

Within Quebec’s list of 10 total vaccine priority levels, “essential workers” are included in Group 9, and account for about 150,000 people in Montreal, Dubé said. Also covered in today’s press conference — though first announced yesterday evening in another — vaccination for Group 8, those 60 and under with chronic illnesses, will be opening in parallel with Group 9. The province foresees being able to keep administering under 50,000 doses a day in April, but hopes to significantly accelerate efforts in the following months.

The news comes just weeks after officials in neighbouring Ontario confirmed that restaurant workers would be included in the second phase of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine plan, following criticism of them not being explicitly mentioned prior.