Alberta plans to open vaccination clinics at Cargill meat plant near High River

Alberta plans to open vaccination clinics for employees at the Cargill meat-packing plant near High River, Alta., which last year had what was then North America’s largest COVID-19 outbreak linked to a single site.

Vaccinations at the meat plant’s clinics will be provided by occupational health nurses who will be employed by Cargill, and public health nursing staff will help assist and train them, Alberta Health Services said.

The clinics will open in conjunction with Phase 2C of the province’s vaccination plan, AHS said in a press release on Thursday. Clinic operation is dependent on the availability of vaccines.

Phase 2C is projected to launch in April and May provincewide, and includes residents and staff working in settings at risk for large outbreaks such as meat-packing plants.

While a specific date was not provided by AHS for the opening of the immunization clinics, the Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that operations are scheduled to start around April 20.

‘They’re at higher risk’

AHS said it hopes to expand the pilot to other meat-processing plants, which have proved dangerous for workers in Alberta during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An outbreak last spring saw at least 950 employees at the Cargill facility — nearly half its workforce — test positive, and was linked to three deaths.

From left: Benito Quesada, 51; Hiep Bui, 67; and Armando Sallegue, 71, have died of COVID-19, with their deaths linked to an outbreak at the Cargill slaughterhouse near High River, Alta. Quesada and Bui were workers at the plant, and Sallegue was the father of a worker. (UFCW 401, Action Dignity, Arwyn Sallegue)

The plant was hit with a second outbreak in December, with 12 active cases linked as of Monday.

Thomas Hesse, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 — the union that represents the employees at Cargill — told CBC News in January that vaccines needed to be made readily available for meat plant workers.

“In a Cargill or a JBS or other manufacturing facility in Alberta, there’ll be a couple of thousand workers in a big box still working in relatively proximity,” said Hesse told CBC News in January.

“These are essential workers. They’re at higher risk. This is clearly an occupational disease. Many of them want to have access to a safe vaccine.”

In addition to the Cargill plant north of High River, current outbreaks at meat-packing plants in Alberta include Cargill Case Ready in Calgary, Olymel in Red Deer, Lilydale Sofina Foods in Edmonton, and Sunrise Poultry Processors in Lethbridge.

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