Migrant farm workers transplant jalapeno sprouts from trucks into the tilted soil at a farm. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Migrant farm workers transplant jalapeno sprouts from trucks into the tilted soil at a farm. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

‘They’re afraid’: Coalition sounds alarm over COVID vaccines for B.C.’s migrant workers

Though health ministry says anyone can get vaccinated, critics say barriers are keeping migrants from their dose

People in Canada should have access to the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of their immigration status, advocates say – if not, hundreds of thousands unvaccinated could compromise the country’s attempt at achieving herd immunity.

The Migrant Rights Network fears that because undocumented workers lack access to a Medical Services Plan or worry about their personal information being shared with immigration enforcement agencies they could be excluded from the vaccine rollout.

They should not have to risk detention or deportation to access the vaccine, said Syed Hussan, member of Migrant Rights Network at a virtual press conference on Wednesday (Feb. 25).

The group – along with 269 other stakeholders including doctors, health policy experts, advocacy organizations and faith and labour leaders – signed a letter calling upon federal and provincial governments to guarantee equal vaccine access for those without permanent status.

The letter comes as provinces and territories adopt mass COVID-19 vaccination plans. It includes demands of making vaccinations free and training providers not to require personal information in exchange for receiving a dose.

B.C. migrants with COVID-19 denied universal health care, advocate says

Byron Cruz, with the Vancouver-based organization Sanctuary Health, said thousands of migrant workers that contracted the coronavirus in 2020 were shut out of receiving universal health care.

For farm labourers who came to B.C. on a work permit and became ill, that meant either having to wait a three-month period to access medical services or being repatriated to their origin country while they had the disease.

“Access to health care is often tied to permits for those who come to work or study in a specific capacity,” Cruz explained, adding that conditions have not changed in 2021.

Undocumented workers in construction and cleaning jobs are being denied access to COVID-19 tests because they don’t possess B.C. health insurance, Cruz attested, even mentioning the presence of police at several Metro Vancouver testing sites.

“They’re afraid of going there,” he said of undocumented populations. Cruz said a few workers died last year from complications resulting from the virus.

Health ministry says vaccine available to all, critics disagree

In a written statement to Black Press Media, B.C.’s Ministry of Health said that vaccine eligibility is “not contingent on being registered with B.C.’s Medical Services Plan or if a person is a Canadian resident or citizen.”

The ministry also said public health has been mandated not to share information provided for immunizations with other organizations.

However, Toronto family doctor Dr. Danyaal Raza has witnessed first-hand people being denied the COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario, where eligibility is also not dependent upon one’s possession of a health services card or number.

“Policy announcements aren’t always reflective of what is happening in practice,” Raza said, emphasizing the need for nation-wide education regarding equitable access to the vaccine.

According to B.C.’s health ministry, during the pre-registration process for the vaccine people need to show proof of age and that they are living in the province.

The ministry also said it’s important for inoculated people to follow up with public health for safety reasons and scheduling a second dose.

The Migrant Rights Network estimates that over 1.6-million people in Canada don’t have permanent resident status and says that many of them work in essential jobs in sectors such as health care, cleaning, delivery and agriculture.



sarah.grochowski@bpdigital.ca

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