By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba commercial truck drivers who regularly travel into the United States will now be able to get COVID-19 vaccines in North Dakota.
The deal, touted as the first such cross-border vaccine agreement between a province and a state, could eventually expand to include other essential workers such as health-care providers.
“The U.S. has got a lot of vaccines and Canada’s got less,” North Dakota governor Doug Burgum said Tuesday as he appeared via video link at a news conference in Winnipeg.
“We want to do our part to help those essential workers from Canada who are frequently travelling through our state.”
As many as 4,000 truckers could be eligible for the vaccines over the next eight weeks. The shots will be provided at no cost, having been paid for by the U.S. federal government, and will be available via appointments.
The first distribution location will be a rest stop on the highway that connects Winnipeg with North Dakota cities such as Grand Forks and Fargo.
North Dakota has already administered 560,000 doses to its population of 760,000, Burgum said.
Manitoba, in contrast, has given at least one dose to about 26 per cent of its adult population. The province has been exploring the idea of prioritizing essential workers, but has so far only focused on health-care staff. Among the general public, vaccine eligibility has depended on age.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the deal with North Dakota comes as case numbers continue to rise.
“The reality of COVID in Canada today is such that the variants of concern are here, the third wave is here, but the vaccines are not here yet,” Pallister said.
The announcement came the same day that Manitoba reported its highest daily COVID-19 case count since mid-winter. Health officials reported 211 new cases Tuesday and one additional death. Eight earlier cases were removed for data correction for a net increase of 203.
New rules, which had been announced Monday, took effect Tuesday to try to stem the rising case count.
Weddings, funerals and outdoor public gatherings are to be capped at 10 people — down from 25. People will no longer be allowed to designate another entire household to be in their bubble. Instead, they will only be allowed to designate two people to be permitted guests inside their homes.
The Oppostion New Democrats said the government should find a way to ensure that truck drivers who travel within Canada get the vaccine as well.
“Truckers are travelling. They themselves are at risk,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
“And really, we’re not in a situation where we can stop the essential flow of goods and services.”