Truck drivers should be among first to get Covid-19 vaccine, says Johns Hopkins prof

TORONTO, Ont. — Nancy Kass believes truck drivers should be among the first people to receive vaccines during a pandemic. And she made the case long before Covid-19 came along.

The guidance emerged in 2008, when the professor of bioethics and public health at Johns Hopkins University led a report into pandemic planning, months before the H1N1 flu outbreak began to spread.

While hospital employees and those in long-term care homes are topping early lists to receive Canada’s first Covid-19 vaccines, Kass stresses that those directly involved in the supply chain should follow soon after.

“There’s a much larger problem for anyone if those industries break down,” she said Wednesday in an interview with Today’s Trucking. “When certain sectors are either unable to work because of illness, or unable to work because of a fear of becoming ill, it’s bad for all of us.”

But there are even priorities to set among truckers.

Package delivery drivers or those who stock grocery stores and pharmacy shelves might deserve to be vaccinated before longhaul truck drivers who interact with fewer people a day, Kass said.

If the roles are not specifically defined, she hopes that common sense comes into play when deciding who specifically should move to the front of the line.

“In that way, if we’re all being really smart, maybe the person at the cash at the grocery store should be in line ahead of you.”

There is also a debate about whether all healthcare workers should be lumped into the top tier of those to receive vaccines, she added. Those involved in caring for Covid-19 patients are clearly at the top of the list, but others might be able to perform their duties through telemedicine.

“If you get a lot of exposure, we hope you get the vaccines soon,” Kass said. “Everything else has to keep working so that we can deliver the vaccine.”

Trucking associations call for early vaccines

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) and American Trucking Associations (ATA) are each recommending that truck drivers should be among the early waves of people to receive Covid-19 vaccines.

“Our workforce represents a central link in the nation’s supply chain and will play an essential role in the imminent Covid-19 vaccine distribution process,” ATA executive vice-president – advocacy Bill Sullivan said in a series of letters distributed to U.S. leaders.

“As the trucking industry is called upon to deliver vaccines across the country, it is imperative that truck drivers have prioritized access to the vaccine to minimize the potential for supply chain delays and disruptions.”

In Canada, the CTA is advising provincial associations to make similar asks, because the vaccination plans are ultimately a provincial role.

The alliance supports calls to prioritize the elderly, those who have the virus, and frontline healthcare workers, but the Ontario Trucking Association has formally asked for the trucking industry to be included in the next layer, says CTA president Stephen Laskowski.

Vaccine delivery begins

The discussion is more than an academic exercise. The first vaccines are scheduled to arrive in Canada early next week. The federal government expects up to 249,000 of the two-dose vaccines to arrive this month.

As many as 6 million doses are to be in Canada during the first quarter of 2021, during one of the largest inoculation programs in history.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said vaccines for non-priority groups – other than the elderly, healthcare workers, and some adults in Indigenous communities – will begin in April.

The supply chain for the vaccines themselves was tested in a dry run that involved shipping dry ice from Belgium on Dec. 7.

That step was used to monitor temperature readings throughout the trip, as officials watched for any challenges in the cold chain.

“Part of the things we did this week was to make sure that the ordering process, transfer to the cold chain, and delivery is well-executed and that we have good visibility throughout,” said Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading logistics operations through the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The refrigeration of this freight will be key.

The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine now approved by Health Canada needs to be stored at -80 C. An emerging Moderna vaccine will need to be maintained at -20 C.

The first doses are to be delivered to 14 locations based close to the populations that need them most.