Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force is facing criticism for not prioritizing essential workers, but the group says they are and that there are still ethical considerations to take into account.
As phase two of the vaccine rollout is set to begin in the coming weeks, many Ontarians have looked at the chart outlining dates and wondered why essential workers, like teachers and grocery store workers, will have to wait until June for their turn.
“We’ve seen vulnerability in the vaccine discussion, be described around age and absolutely age is a layer of vulnerability, but there are other layers of vulnerability, we need to consider including people who live in low income areas and are essential workers,” Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and health justice advocate, told CTV’s National.
But a doctor on the task force says that the focus shouldn’t be on the dates, which come with an asterisk.
“Don’t focus on the June in there because there’s a big asterisk underneath there that says, this can be shifted based on vaccine supply,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Friday.
Vaccine supply can be shifted for better or for worse. Vaccinations could happen sooner than anticipated, or if there are major supply chain hiccups, later than expected.
But experts are still concerned about an equitable rollout.
“I think overall we are focusing our vaccine rollout in a way that doesn’t recognize the dire needs of particular communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19,” said Dosani.
Currently, public health units are beginning to expand into age groups prioritized in phase two. Toronto has expanded mass vaccinations to cover people aged 60 and over. Phase two was set to begin with people aged 75 to 79. Public health units in COVID-19 hotspots are vaccinating people 50 years old and up.
Pharmacies are vaccinating people aged 55 and up using the AstraZeneca vaccine. This is expanding to 350 more pharmacies across the province to target more hotspot areas, some opening as early as Saturday. The additional capacity will have up to 700 pharmacies able to complete vaccinations and the province expects up to 1,500 pharmacies providing the inoculations by the end of April.
“You’re stopping the deaths by really focusing on the older end of the spectrum and those who live in congregate settings, especially long-term care,” said Bogoch. “You’re also helping people who might get infected during the conduct of their work, which are essential workers, people who can’t work from home.”
He said that essential workers are being targeted in three ways throughout phase two.
“One [of the ways] is many essential workers that are 50 years and up can be vaccinated because the age bracket is lower in [hotspot] areas,” he said.
“There’s many essential workers that will be vaccinated because there are more vaccines allocated to public health units, and the public health units can truly use those vaccines in ways that they see fit, including vaccinating essential workers,” he added.
“And the third thing is, stay tuned, because part of the phase two rollout is essential workers are going to be prioritized and vaccinated as they should be in stage two.”
‘THEY NEED SOME GUARANTEE’
Some Ontario doctors are worried about what will happen to patients in the meantime. Dr. Michael Warner, head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto said that he’s seeing patients who had no choice but to go to work and ended up spreading the virus to their family members. Without paid sick days and vaccinations, this will continue to happen, he says.
“Yesterday 17 people, including myself, and the 18th being the patient, went through a three hour experience, where I’ve never had a patient so close to death in my entire 12-year career, and we saved her,” he told CTV News Channel on Saturday.
But, he added, he shouldn’t have had to and Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford needs to step up to protect essential workers in Ontario.
“It didn’t have to be this way. If the government would just do the right thing, and protect people. Protect the people who are actually being hurt by this, the people that the premier never talks about in his press conferences, and I’m tired of it and so are my colleagues,” he added.
Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, CTV News infectious disease specialist, is seeing similar things among his own COVID-19 patients. They need better protection, he told CTV News Channel on Saturday.
“They need some guarantee that they don’t have to make a decision between having their families survive, and putting food on the table, or ending up in an ICU on a ventilator,” he said.
Sharkawy has been particularly concerned about teachers in schools with antiquated ventilation systems and students who sit together unmasked eating their lunches.
“They need vaccines, and what we’ve done right now just deciding that somehow they’ll be OK, they’ll be able to fend for themselves that, you know they’ll come up in the queue whenever they can, unacceptable, unacceptable,” he said. “Teachers are going to die.”
While it is important to get essential workers vaccinated, Bogoch said that it’s also important to continue vaccinating older populations and those at highest risk of dying from COVID-19.
Dropping age limits in COVID-19 hotspots aims to encompass more essential workers, as well as targeting their family members and close contacts who are at higher risk of severe illness or death. Expanding the pharmacy program means more equitable distribution of vaccines.
Right now, vaccine supply is the biggest hurdle, Bogoch said.
“We just don’t have the vaccine to do it,” he said. “Because we vaccinated long-term care and community dwelling 80-year-olds and many community dwelling 70-year-olds.”
Since the beginning of March, nine long-term care residents have died from COVID-19, compared to 770 long-term care resident deaths in January, according to data published by Ontario. The COVID-19 ward in the hospital where Bogoch works has an average patient age of 65, a lot of them are older than that, some are younger, he added.
He described some of them as essential workers, some have family members who are essential workers and others don’t know where they were infected.
He is critical of those sharing stories of young people in intensive care units who could’ve been saved by a vaccination, he said that these stories don’t help and without vaccine supply, won’t change the pace of rollout.
“We don’t need anecdotes to drive this, we need data to drive this,” he said. “We have an equitable and data driven pathway, essential workers are prioritized in stage two of this process. There’s multiple ways that equity has been baked into the stage two roll out.”
The focus for Bogoch is who he’s not seeing in the ICU. That’s the elderly people who bore the brunt of the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in the province. He said that this shows the vaccines are working to prevent deaths and hospitalizations in priority groups, and that that shouldn’t be seen as a failure. Without vaccinating those priority groups a third wave would have torn through long-term care homes again, he added.
“It’s not exciting and it’s not flashy, it’s just the right way to do it. Vaccinate the people who are at greatest risk of death.”
But supply remains the biggest factor in who will get vaccinated and when.
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. That doesn’t mean that we’re in the midst of a third wave and a lot of essential workers are being infected. What it means is we don’t have a ton of vaccines. We have to use the ones we have in a strategic manner”
After Air Canada lifeline, small carriers seek aid as virus looms ahead of summer travel
By Allison Lampert and Steve Scherer
MONTREAL (Reuters) –Canada is facing industry calls to extend financial aid to smaller airlines, after offering a C$5.9 billion ($4.71 billion)life-line to Air Canada, as new COVID-19 variants loom ahead of the vital summer travel season.
The timing of Monday’s deal, which saw the Canadian government take a 6% equity stake in Air Canada, was partly designed to secure “access to air travel when it returns,” as the country’s vaccine rollout ramps up this summer, a source familiar with the discussions said.
But with the spread of new variants threatening to overtake the pace of vaccination, early hopes for a relaxation of Canada‘s strict travel requirements ahead of summer are fading.
Fears of a delayed recovery, along with the Air Canada deal, has upset the “level playing field” for air service, with smaller carriers asking for financial support.
“We want everyone to have access to the same programs,” said John McKenna, chief executive of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which represents smaller carriers.
On Wednesday, Air Canada joined rival WestJet Airlines in extending a three-month suspension of sun-destination flights to the Caribbean and Mexico originally slated to end on April 30, reflecting the government’s current warnings against international travel. [L1N2M71SG]
The planned April reopening of a bubble in Atlantic Canada, which would allow travel among the region’s four provinces without the need to self-isolate, was postponed this week until at least May 3 over COVID-19 concerns.
WestJet said its previously-planned schedule for Atlantic Canada remains unchanged.
Canada‘s vaccine roll out has been slow, but it is ramping up now. By the end of June, some 44 million doses are expected, and everyone who wants to be fully inoculated will be by the end of September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised.
Trudeau said in a radio interview this week that he supports Canadian provinces which choose to close their borders to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Canada‘s Liberal government, which will deliver its first budget in two years next week, has said talks with carriers like Onex Corp-owned WestJet are ongoing.
“We hope that the other agreements come as soon as possible,” the source familiar with the talks said, adding that “different airlines have different needs”.
WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell said the airline is optimistic that a successful vaccine roll-out will support summer travel and expects “government policy will transition” with mounting jabs.
Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, has a mandate that its citizens and residents arriving from abroad self-isolate for 14 days.
Health Canada advised Canadians in a statement to avoid traveling outside the country “for the foreseeable future.”
Calgary-based WestJet has asked the government to end an order requiring international arrivals to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel in favor of COVID-19 testing.
The government must decide whether to renew the controversial hotel order, which expires on April 21.
McKenna also urged the government to relax restrictions on travel with neighboring United States.
“The government can come up with all the financial help they want,” ATAC’s McKenna said. “But until those things are relaxed we can’t do anything.”
($1 = 1.2515 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Steve Scherer in Ottawa. Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; editing by Diane Craft)
U.S. seeks to polish tarnished reputation with new climate change pledges
By Valerie Volcovici and Kate Abnett
WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The United States hopes to restore its shattered credibility when it hosts a climate change summit next week by pledging to cut its greenhouse emissions by at least half and securing agreements from allies for faster reductions, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
A 50% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 is a minimum level urged by environmental groups, hundreds of corporations and European Union lawmakers. It would be the first upgrade of the U.S. climate target since 2015, when former President Barack Obama pledged a 26%-28% reduction by 2025.
Washington was also close to clinching deals with the governments of Japan, South Korea and Canada to accelerate their targets to decarbonize, the two sources said. It was not immediately clear if those nations would make announcements at the event, and representatives of those countries have not commented on the discussions.
The stakes for the meeting are high. Leaders from roughly 40 countries including China, India, Brazil and Russia have been invited, with hopes they will double down on past pledges to reduce climate warming emissions. So far, international pledges to decarbonize would shave only 1% off global emissions by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, a fraction of what scientists say is needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
The virtual summit on April 22-23, kicking off on Earth Day, will be an opportunity for Democratic President Joe Biden to reclaim U.S. leadership in global climate efforts, after four years during which his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, downplayed the issue to support the oil and coal industries.
Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, has spent the last few months on countless Zoom appearances and on a globe-hopping tour, concluding this week in China and South Korea, to persuade countries to use next week’s summit to hike their commitments to protect the planet.
The Biden administration has been laying the groundwork for its new target, unveiling a $2 trillion infrastructure package to expand clean energy and transport.
The European Union last year agreed to reduce its net emissions at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels – currently the most ambitious among big emitters.
“All eyes are on the Biden summit next week as a key moment for John Kerry’s diplomatic skills to be put to work in aligning all countries with a halving of emissions in this decade, as science demands,” said Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
PATIENCE WEARING THIN
Next week’s U.S. summit is the first in a string of meetings of world leaders – including the G7 and G20 – ahead of the United Nations climate summit in November, known as COP26. That serves as the deadline for nearly 200 countries to update their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, an international accord set in 2015 to combat global warming.
But as global powers tussle over percentage points, in countries already facing the impacts of a warming world, patience is wearing thin.
Developing countries – many of which are vulnerable to rising seas, heatwaves and rainfall made more severe by climate change – are expected to offer their own goals at the summit, said Pablo Vieira, director of the NDC Partnership, which has been helping developing nations craft their climate targets.
They will also repeat their demand that rich nations offer more money to help them cut emissions and adapt to the impacts it is already unleashing in countries like Bangladesh, South Sudan and the Marshall Islands.
YOU’RE ALL INVITED
U.S. talks with Japan, South Korea and Canada have focused on trying to get each country to commit to cut emissions at least 50% by 2030, according to the two sources familiar with the U.S. negotiations.
Japan and South Korea both rely on coal for power generation and winding that dependence down and their finance of coal plants abroad could yield significant emissions cuts in the next 10 years, the sources said.
Canada may have a tougher challenge.
“We don’t have quite that luxury here because coal is a much smaller part of our grid,” Canada‘s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said. But he added: “We are working to stretch as far as we can.”
Canada, which has a large oil industry, currently has a target to cut emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
Other major emitters appear less keen to take the plunge, including India, China, Brazil and Russia.
India, the third-largest emitting country behind China and the United States, is resisting because it expects more developed nations to take on the bulk of global reductions.
“What we are suffering today is caused a 100 years ago,” said Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, pointing to emissions from the United States and Europe. “Historical responsibility is a very important aspect. We cannot just forget it.”
China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, was meeting with Kerry in Shanghai this week to discuss climate change, the foreign ministry said. China promised last year that its greenhouse gas output would peak by 2030, a target environmental groups say is insufficient.
U.S. and Brazilian officials, meanwhile, have been working since February on a billion-dollar deal to fund Brazil’s protection of the Amazon rainforest, but diplomatic sources said a deal is unlikely by April 22.
Russia, another big emitter, has not yet confirmed if President Vladimir Putin will participate in the summit. With Moscow’s ties with the West at a post-Cold War low, the U.S. summit has generated little buzz in Russia.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington and Kate Abnett in Brussells; Additional reporting by Neha Arora and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi, Thomas Balmforth in Moscow, Tony Munroe in Beijing, Jake Spring in Brasilia and David Ljunggren in OttawaEditing by Richard Valdmanis, Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)
U.S. labor movement looks for path forward after Amazon defeat
By Timothy Aeppel
(Reuters) – Regina McDowell was not surprised that workers overwhelmingly rejected a union at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Alabama last week.
She spent 42 years working in a unionized electrical equipment factory in Indiana and was active in organizing drives — including traveling to the South to track down workers at their homes to make the pitch for her union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
“They’d sometimes shoo you off their property with a gun,” she said, adding that union dues were a sticking point for many.
“I think that gets them,” said the 63-year-old grandmother, “that it’s less money they’ll have.”
The landslide failure of the Amazon vote at the warehouse in Bessemer has sparked soul-searching in the labor movement over what went wrong and what unions need to do differently in the future to regain ground.
“Organizing in America is no longer a fair fight. Our labor laws are no longer an effective way to capture the will of American workers to form unions,” said Tim Schlittner, communications director for the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation.
“The sentiment this reinforces is that there’s an overdue and dramatic need for labor law reform in the United States.”
WORTH THE RISK?
Still, for many workers, labor experts reckon the decision whether to support a union campaign often boils down to a risk assessment.
“Once they know how strongly Amazon opposes them, and how much resources Amazon is willing to spend to defeat a union, then their fear sets in,” said Tom Kochan, a professor of industrial relations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.
Kochan has conducted surveys that show high, and even growing, support for unions among Americans. But when it comes to individual campaigns in a workplace, “the reality sets in –
when the employer campaigns so hard that you think you’re putting your job at risk.”
Changes in the economy have exacerbated the problem. Big companies like Amazon have operations dotting the country, making it easier for them to shift work. Compared to a steel mill or a car assembly plant, an e-commerce warehouse has fewer fixed investments in equipment, which also makes it easier to shift jobs.
“Why should I as an individual worker, earning $15 an hour, risk three years of a battle with my employer to get something done,” said Kochan, “and at the same time, risk losing my job?
The traditional view, shared by Kochan and many other labor experts, is that company measures to fight unionization, including tactics that would be illegal in other advanced countries such as requiring workers to attend meetings to hear anti-union arguments, need to be reined in.
The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed legislation last month that would expand protections for labor organizing and collective bargaining.
But the measure faces a difficult path in the Senate, where the two parties are evenly split and most legislation needs at least 60 backers to pass. A block of Republican senators from anti-union, “right-to-work” states is set to oppose the measure.
There was optimism among activists in the final months of the Amazon campaign, as it drew high-profile endorsements and national and international media attention, including a speech by President Joe Biden criticizing Amazon for hindering union drives at its warehouses.
Biden, a Democrat, is widely viewed as the most pro-union president in modern times.
But none of that was enough to counteract the view of some workers at the facility that pay and conditions were relatively good on top of the everyday barriers that have combined over recent years to drive union membership in the United States to historic lows.
Only 6.3% of private-sector workers belong to unions, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The comparable rate is 15.8% in neighboring Canada.
One response in recent years has been new types of organizing, which sidestep many legal restrictions on formal union campaigns to gain collective bargaining agreements with employers.
The Southern Workers Assembly, for instance, is a group that organizes protests and conducts education campaigns aimed at promoting labor and other social causes. The group helped organize events in February across the country in support of the Amazon workers.
Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University in Indiana, said unions need to refurbish their image. Many workplace advances such as the 40-hour week were enacted decades ago. Recent years have seen waves of factory shutdowns where companies have blamed unions for making the operation uncompetitive.
“Here in the Midwest, every time a factory closed, it had a huge spillover to the rest of the community,” he added. “It caused restaurants and bars to close, so the loss of other jobs.”
Younger generations have little contact with unions, simply because the share of workers covered by contracts has diminished so greatly.
McDowell, the former electrical worker, has seen these forces play out in her hometown of Peru, Indiana. Her plant, owned by France’s Schneider Electric SE, closed last April after a battle by the local union to retain it. The company said it was a difficult decision to close but necessary to remain competitive. Part of the work moved to Mexico.
Many workers viewed the move as an effort to get out of a unionized operation, a charge the company has denied.
But it also has eroded the stature of the union in the eyes of some, said McDowell, who remains strongly pro-union. “There were people who felt the union should have done more” to save the factory, she said.
“But once the company said they were going to close it, what can we do? It’s their company.”
(Reporting by Timothy Aeppel; Editing by Peter Cooney)
After Air Canada lifeline, small carriers seek aid as virus looms ahead of summer travel
U.S. seeks to polish tarnished reputation with new climate change pledges
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