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Some essential City of Winnipeg workers and their unions are asking for priority spots on the province’s COVID-19 vaccination list.

"Being able to get the vaccination, get that priority, would give us another step to having a safe workplace... We’re enclosed in a tight space in the bus," said one Transit driver, who asked not to be named.

The city should lobby the province for public transit operators to become a priority immunization group, since their daily work puts them in close proximity to the public, the driver said Thursday — adding front-line health-care workers, including firefighters and paramedics, and seniors should get their shots first.

Ideally, they would be followed by police and Winnipeg Transit staff, including those tasked with cleaning bus shelters, the driver said. "Every time I go to work, I’ve got to be extra vigilant. I carry alcohol wipes with me and I wipe down my entire driver’s compartment."

“Being able to get the vaccination, get that priority, would give us another step to having a safe workplace... We’re enclosed in a tight space in the bus.” – Transit driver

The union that represents Transit drivers is on board, lobbying for workers to receive vaccines soon — after doses are provided to all health-care workers.

"On our buses, we have upwards of 50 people on a bus at a time when it’s busy... If you want to keep the city rolling, I think vaccinations for our members should be a priority," said James Van Gerwen, vice-president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.

The province is currently offering doses to specific health-care staff, including some who work in key hospital units, long-term care facilities, immunization clinics, COVID-19 testing sites or labs that handle COVID-19 specimens, some of whom must also meet minimum age criteria. Those who work in prisons or jails can also get the shot.

This week, the province announced it will complete the vaccination of all eligible Manitoba personal care home residents by early March. Some vaccines have also been earmarked for First Nations communities, which will also prioritize doses for at-risk groups.

While "paramedics and specialty medical transport teams" are listed as an upcoming priority group for vaccines, Alex Forrest said he’s lobbying to ensure that addition arrives as soon as possible, and includes all firefighters.

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES

While "paramedics and specialty medical transport teams" are listed as an upcoming priority group for vaccines, Alex Forrest said he’s lobbying to ensure that addition arrives as soon as possible, and includes all firefighters.

A second round of vaccine recipients will include select workers in: Child and Family Services or Community Living disABILITY Services group homes; paramedics and specialty medical transport teams; emergency placement, family violence and homeless shelters; and home care.

Once vaccine supplies allow, the province says, seniors will also become a priority group.

Meanwhile, the union for Winnipeg firefighters is also lobbying to ensure its members get the shot as soon as possible.

"The whole (Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service), the individuals that come in contact with COVID patients... need to be pushed up in the queue," said Alex Forrest, president of United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.

In a written statement, city spokesman David Driedger said the city has asked emergency service workers be added to the vaccine priority list, due to their likelihood of having direct physical contact with Winnipeggers.

While "paramedics and specialty medical transport teams" are listed as an upcoming priority group for vaccines, Forrest said he’s lobbying to ensure that addition arrives as soon as possible, and includes all firefighters.

The province confirmed firefighter-paramedics, but not firefighters, are currently included in that category.

In a written statement, city spokesman David Driedger said the city has asked emergency service workers be added to the vaccine priority list, due to their likelihood of having direct physical contact with Winnipeggers.

"This puts them at a heightened risk of both contracting COVID-19 and potentially spreading it within our community," Driedger wrote. "It’s our hope that the vaccine will be rolled out to front-line workers as soon as possible, including to our bus operators, once supply of the vaccine is more widely available."

According to a provincial spokesperson, the number of vaccine doses that become available will play a key role in determining when additional groups could be prioritized for immunization.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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