Who among Canada's essential workers has been vaccinated? No one seems to know

People at the Bill Durnan Arena COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Saturday, May 22, 2021.

In Ontario, roughly 40 per cent of teachers have received their COVID-19 vaccination — a good sign as the province begins to reopen, and students look to head back to the classroom, but a troubling sign considering that some two-thirds of Ontario’s overall population has gotten at least one injection.

Beyond this tidbit into the rate of vaccination of teachers in Ontario, across other sectors and jurisdiction of the essential-worker economy, it’s less than clear just how well-protected those workers are from severe illness, because it’s not known whether or not they’re vaccinated.

That data about teachers are included in a letter sent this week by Premier Doug Ford, seeking advice on school reopenings, and expressing concern with the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the variant that originates in India.

“What makes all this new information concerning is that … only 41 per cent of teachers and education workers are vaccinated compared to 62 per cent of the general adult population in Ontario,” Ford’s letter says.

Yet, even in Ontario, where the premier specifically said what the rate is, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation was unable to confirm what percentage of teachers have been vaccinated, demonstrating just how difficult this information is to come by.

“We don’t have any idea how many teachers have ben vaccinated at this point,” wrote Scott Perkin, with the federation.

The reason why this information is unclear is relatively simple: it’s a privacy issue for unions and employers and provinces don’t necessarily track by occupation when people are booking vaccination appointments.

Still, it’s of concern for some who want to know if their nurse is vaccinated, or their parents’ long-term care worker, or if the police officer leaning in their window to give a speeding ticket has been protected from spreading the virus.

The National Post sought to find out the rates of vaccination among essential workers in four categories in four provinces, and asked for data on police, teachers, nurses and long-term-care workers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

The Post asked for this information directly from governments, and asked unions — for nurses and teachers — and police departments and long-term care associations for any statistics they had on vaccination rates.

In every single case that responded, the Post was told this information either wasn’t kept or wouldn’t be shared, often citing privacy or medical confidentiality.

“We do not break down vaccine stats by occupation,” wrote Tom McMillan, a spokesman for Alberta Health, in an email. “We report by age online.”

Provincial governments in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia didn’t respond to the Post’s requests for information.

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In several cities across the country, police unions have been bullish in demanding that police officers get early access to vaccines. But, Victoria City Police Union director Matt Waterman said “we don’t feel comfortable sharing if or how many of our members are vaccinated.”

The response was similar in Vancouver; the Post heard back from Const. Tania Visintin, a spokesperson with the Vancouver Police Department, who said this constitutes a privacy issue, and they don’t keep vaccination information.

“Those choosing or not choosing to get vaccinated do not have to disclose their wishes,” Visintin wrote in an email.

In both Calgary and Edmonton, police spokespeople said they don’t track medical information — including vaccination information — about employees.

“However we know that both sworn and civilian employees are generally supportive based on discussions our Occupational Health and Safety group has been having across the Service,”  said Cheryl Sheppard with the Edmonton Police Service.

The Ontario Provincial Police union said they had no information on vaccination, as did the union representing officers of the Sûreté du Québec, Quebec’s provincial police. It referred the Post to the force itself, which in turn said they didn’t have that information but may be able to release it in coming weeks.

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Long-term-care homes have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the bulk of the deaths from the virus have been the elderly. But, a survey of associations and unions representing long-term care workers show that even in this high-risk environment, there is little information available.

Heather Aggus, a spokesperson for the Alberta Continuing Care Association, said they didn’t have “accurate information” about long-term care workers and vaccination.

“Some members report numbers but since it’s self reported, we don’t have a definitive answer unfortunately,” Aggus said.

Marie Fitzpatrick, with the Ontario Long Term Care Association, said they “do not have the data you seek,” and suggested contacting the provincial government, which did not respond.

While in British Columbia, the Hospital Employees’ Union — which represents many care home workers — has no specific information, it sent the Post a CBC story, that notes 142,000 health-care workers, and those working in assisted living and long-term care facilities have been vaccinated. The government, though, did not provide statistics on the overall number of working in these fields, making a percentage difficult.

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In Ontario, the government has given a number of vaccinated teachers: 41 per cent. But, the province didn’t respond to a further request for information, and the teachers’ union was unable to say anything further.

This is similar elsewhere in the country, too.

Lauren Hutchison, with the BC Teachers’ Federation, said “We don’t have access to personal medical records of members, so there’s no way for us to know, unfortunately.”

The Alberta Teachers Association did not respond to a request for comment.

In Quebec, Sébastien Joly, executive director of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said they also don’t have numbers, but “from the feedback received through our local unions we could say that the majority must have been vaccinated by now…”

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Even when it comes to those who are on the literal front lines, this information is hard to come by.

Sheree Bond, with the Ontario Nurses Association, said they don’t have the information — but nurses have been asking when they will get their second doses.

“I know they’re anxious to be protected, but we do not have any statistics available to us,” Bond said.

In British Columbia, the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of British Columbia also had no information, nor did the BC Nurses’ Union. (But, the aforementioned CBC story suggests many have been vaccinated.)

And, the United Nurses of Alberta told the Post “we don’t have information about how many nurses have been vaccinated at this point.”

In Quebec, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec, which represents nurses and other health-care providers, also didn’t have information about vaccination rates, and suggested contacting the health ministry.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques