Last May, we were living through what we now understand were the early days of an historic global pandemic. We were still unsure of how the COVID-19 virus was transmitted and a vaccine was on the distant horizon. We also did not know if the food and beverage supply chain would continue to function as it is intended. We are fortunate that it has, and that Canadians have access to the food and beverage products that they depend on.
This pandemic has redefined how we regard the everyday heroes among us. Those that stock shelves in grocery stores, deliver food and beverages to those stores, and those that working production. These heroes and essential workers have come together to keep the supply chain strong and to make sure that there is food on the shelves for Canadians.
Many of these essential workers work in geographic COVID hotspots and, like many of us, live in multi-generational homes. Infections can spread through workplaces like wildfire. Data demonstrates that people working in manufacturing of essential goods, including food and beverages, are a leading source of COVID-19 Variant of Concern spread. The stories of heartbreak and loss, including the recent death of a 13-year-old girl in Brampton, are tragic.
While manufacturers and distributors have implemented robust protocols and processes to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 in their facilities, the new and highly transmissible variants are putting increased pressure on these protocols and processes. The sooner that all essential workers – the heroes – are vaccinated, the safer essential workplaces will be. We must work to slow the spread of the variants to secure important local economies and communities across Canada.
We have to do right by the essential workers who are enabling the critical infrastructure that serves Canadians. If we act now, and start to vaccinate these workers, we can stop the spread of COVID-19 variants and decrease the impact on the community. If we fail to do this, we are knowingly increasing their vulnerability.
Canadians owe essential workers a debt of gratitude. They went to work when were lucky to safely stay at home while ordering groceries and other supplies. It is time to prioritize all workers who must work with others outside their homes.
The time for this is now. We know that businesses are ready. Many have publicly volunteered to invest in building vaccine clinics within their operations and share resources across facilities to ensure that every worker that wants a vaccine can have one. Businesses have stepped up to offer to support the provinces and local public health authorities so that these vaccinations can happen with great speed.
In times of uncertainty, the best guide is science and data. We have seen expert after expert recommend that governments place an urgent priority on the vaccination of essential workers. This is not about choosing one at risk group over another. This is about acknowledging that essential workers are emerging as a higher need group.
To protect these vulnerable workers, the communities that they live and work, and the food and beverage supply chain, a robust and immediate plan to address this risk is urgently needed.
Jim Goetz is the President of the Canadian Beverage Association. A veteran of Ontario and federal politics, Jim has worked in the beverage industry for more than a decade and lives in Toronto with his wife Kelly and his two children, James and Charlie.