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On The U.S.-Canada Border, Neighbors Are Helping Each Other Out With Vaccinations

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The pace of coronavirus vaccinations in Canada lags far behind that of the United States. This is largely due to a shortage in supplies. Just 3% of Canadians have been fully immunized as most provinces delay second shots by up to four months so they can deliver more doses to protect against a surge in infections. In recent weeks, some American border communities with ample vaccine supplies have been offering them to their neighbors in Canada. Emma Jacobs has more.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Canada and the U.S. have limited travel over the border for more than a year. But John Harrower still crosses twice a week under exemptions for truck drivers maintaining the countries' integrated supply chains. He'll pick up potash from a mine a few hours from his home in Manitoba.

JOHN HARROWER: I will take that into South Dakota. Then I'll - I could pick up anything. But typically, it's soy meal. Then I'll bring that back into Canada.

JACOBS: Harrower was on the road last month when he heard on the radio that North Dakota had agreed to vaccinate Manitoba drivers.

HARROWER: I phoned, and I talked to this lovely lady named Doris at North Dakota Health. And she made my appointment for the next time I was coming past the rest stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK HORN HONKING)

JACOBS: North Dakota's governor said last month they'll vaccinate several thousand Canadian truck drivers at roadside clinics and may also add oil workers. Most Manitobans are waiting four months for second doses. But North Dakota, with ample supply, can deliver second doses within weeks. Montana on Monday began vaccinating truckers from one of its neighboring provinces, Alberta. The Native American Blackfoot Confederacy crosses both. Health director Bonnie Healy said over Zoom that the southern portion had achieved a 98% vaccination rate by April, with hundreds of extra doses.

BONNIE HEALY: And then it got to be urgent because their supply was going to expire if not used.

JACOBS: The Blackfeet obtained special permission to hold two vaccination clinics at the border, opening the second to the general Canadian public.

HEALY: People were lining up in the middle of the night, just really hoping for an opportunity to get vaccinated.

JACOBS: Alaska's chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, delivered shots to Canadians herself on a recent visit to Hyder, Alaska. The tiny community hopes vaccinations will help ease restrictions on most travel to its nearest neighbor, the town of Stewart in British Columbia.

ANNE ZINK: Honestly, when I was vaccinating, it was kind of like a block party feel. People were like, I haven't seen you in a year. How are you? It's so good to see you.

JACOBS: She had to take three planes to reach Hyder. The only road access comes through Stewart.

ZINK: If we can really have that whole community vaccinated, Canada and Hyder will feel more comfortable about allowing those people to move back and forth.

JACOBS: The border closure has also profoundly isolated Point Roberts, Wash., which sits on a peninsula separated from the rest of the state by British Columbia. Fire Chief Christopher Carleton said he'd like to hold a drive-in vaccination clinics for American citizens living in Canada or even Canadian vacationers.

CHRISTOPHER CARLETON: They could come down, spend the summer with us, be fully vaccinated with us and return to Canada safely for the communities that they live in.

JACOBS: He'd need special accommodations at the border from federal authorities for this to happen, like those that made other cross-border clinics possible, including an exemption to Canada's 14-day quarantine for returning travelers. But one more border community wants to achieve vaccination at a larger scale. A hospital administrator in Windsor, Ontario, has asked to have 75,000 excess vaccines offered up by Michigan delivered to Canada and to send residents of his region to walk-in clinics across the border in Detroit.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAC MILLER SONG, "RIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.