The NWT government has formally begun vaccinating non-resident oil and mine workers in the territory against Covid-19, saying it has enough vaccine to do so, won’t incur extra costs, and residents won’t have their own shots delayed.
The territory had already vaccinated more than 100 such workers after they requested individual exemptions from the chief public health officer. Now, workers at Imperial Oil in Norman Wells and the Diavik, Ekati, and Gahcho Kué diamond mines will form a priority group of their own without the need for individual requests.
In a Monday news release, the territorial government said extending vaccination to non-resident rotational workers – who come and go from the territory but mingle with NWT residents while at work – was important, and was being done elsewhere.
“The decision to vaccinate non-resident rotational workers is supported by the federal government and is occurring in other jurisdictions across Canada reliant on transitional workers to deliver essential services,” the news release read.
“Recent remote worksite outbreaks in the NWT and the development of new Covid-19 variants in other parts of Canada have highlighted the importance of protecting rotational workers living and working inside our borders.”
An outbreak at the Gahcho Kué mine at the start of the year was the NWT’s largest yet, infecting around 20 workers and causing more than 100 to isolate for two weeks. The mine suspended operations for most of February.
The new priority group came into effect on Friday. Workers will be informed of their vaccination date and time by their employer. Other non-resident rotational workers who are employed elsewhere can request individual exemptions from the chief public health officer to access the vaccine.
“Increasing immunity at these worksites will protect residents, their families, and the communities NWT residents return to between shifts – particularly the most remote and vulnerable communities with limited access to health care.,” the territorial government stated.
“The NWT is ahead of schedule offering first doses to residents aged 18 years of age and older in all 33 NWT communities. Plans to vaccinate non-resident rotational workers will not prevent NWT residents from getting their promised doses of vaccine.”
The territory said it had asked the federal government for 12,000 extra vaccine doses “specifically for non-resident workers.” The news release did not state whether that request had been accepted.
“With the arrival of the fifth shipment of vaccine expected next week, the NWT is well-positioned to provide both doses of the vaccine to 75 percent of its adult population by the end of April 2021. The GNWT will not incur any additional costs associated with vaccinating non-resident rotational workers,” the statement concluded.