Cross-border vaccination programs for drivers have been a huge success

Years from now, books will be written on the handling of the global Covid-19 pandemic. And within those pages will be plenty of well-deserved condemnations about how various governments handled, or bungled their handling of, the disaster.

There was no playbook for this. Clearly there should’ve been. And in Canada it sure felt at times like we were changing the rules on the fly in a clumsy effort to appease both medical advisors and the general public. It’s been an exhausting experience for us all.

However, when the dust settles and we get this pandemic in our rearview mirrors, I hope we also remember some of the best practices that emerged. One that is top of mind is the vaccination of truckers who want it by certain border states.

It began in late April when North Dakota governor Doug Burgum offered vaccinations – paid for by the U.S. federal government – to Manitoba-based truckers crossing the border. Soon after, the state extended the offer to Saskatchewan drivers.

Then Montana offered the same arrangement to Alberta truckers. And talks commenced between officials in Michigan and Ontario. These programs have been an enormous success. As of a couple weeks ago, more than 1,300 Manitoba truckers had been vaccinated through the program, and it had just been extended another month to the end of June. Some 747 Alberta truckers took advantage of the opportunity within the Montana program’s first month, proving there’s certainly an appetite among professional drivers to get vaccinated.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba truckers are being vaccinated at the rest area near Drayton, North Dakota. (Photo: North Dakota Department of Health)

Terry Shaw, head of the Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA), credits the Manitoba government for getting the ball rolling. Drivers were becoming frustrated because while they selflessly continued serving on the front lines to keep hospitals, pharmacies, and stores stocked of essential items, they were not prioritized for vaccinations. Decision makers reasoned that truckers spend most of their time isolated in their cabs, so didn’t have to be moved to the front of the lines.

To make matters worse, their schedules often kept them from attending vaccination clinics or making appointments to get the shot. Many spend more time out of their home province than home.

“Our truck drivers have been on the front line. We told everyone to stay home, unless you’re a truck driver, then keep doing what you do – we need those supplies,” said Shaw.

The MTA and the provincial government were struggling to figure out how to get truckers vaccinated without disrupting the supply chain. And that’s when North Dakota stepped up.

“Our government partners had conversations with their counterparts in North Dakota. That call happened on a Tuesday and on Wednesday, the site was open,” Shaw told me. “It’s one of the rare good news stories that came out of Covid.”

It’s also probably the fastest-ever execution of a government-run program.

The North Dakota/Manitoba program will now run until the end of June, as demand continues to be high. Truckers worried about being able to get two shots are now assured they can get their second in Manitoba even if their first was received in the U.S.

The essential work of our nation’s truck drivers has been widely recognized over the past year, in the form of tribute trailers, free meals, and personal protective equipment. But the best thing we can do for them is ensure those who want to get the vaccine are able to, safely and with minimal disruption to their lives and livelihoods. Kudos to those western provinces and states for creating an effective template that other provinces and states should look to duplicate.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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