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Upcoming vaccine mandate for truckers could stifle an already fragile supply chain

Upcoming vaccine mandate for truckers could stifle an already fragile supply chain
Written by Publishing Team

January 12 2022 A new vaccine mandate that requires cross-border truck drivers to be fully vaccinated will go into effect on Saturday, January 15, potentially dealing a major blow to a supply chain already crippled by the effects of the pandemic.

The Trump administration has deemed land border crossings necessary and has allowed them to continue regardless of individuals’ vaccination status. The mandate for the new vaccine by the Department of Homeland Security would override this exception.

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, Canada was the largest export market for goods for the United States, and Canada was the third largest supplier of goods imports into the United States in 2019. The total trade of U.S. goods and services with Canada was an estimated $718.4 billion.

US trade imports from Canada totaled $319.4 billion, 70 percent of which is trucked.

From January 15, truck drivers entering Canada will have to show proof of vaccination, which could cause some 30,000 truck drivers to close across the border. A similar vaccine law for truck drivers entering the United States from Canada will go into effect on January 22.

“complete vaccination” in this context means either two doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covaxin, Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines; or a single dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Mike Milliam

“70 percent of the 700 billion in trade between Canada and the United States is transported by trucks,” said Mike Milliam, president of the Canadian Automobile Trucking Council (PMTC). This will have a major impact on the supplies and services that reach their destination and into the hands of those who need them. One need look no further than the recent fuel shortages in the UK, where the army had to be brought in to deliver fuel due to a shortage of truck drivers. We are already seeing shortages, if that shortage reaches critical levels in items like fuel, food, blood drugs or medical supplies, we will see real and long-term damage.”

On a regular basis, about 120,000 Canadian truck drivers enter the United States and about 40,000 American drivers enter Canada for a total of 160,000 drivers crossing back and forth, most transporting essential items such as medical supplies, blood, food and fuel.

“We understand that governments are putting in place these mandates in order to protect our health,” Milliam told the Lynnwood Times. “If we start to see a shortage of medical supplies in our hospitals because we have mandated drivers to vaccinate, how much of an impact will that have on people’s health? The idea might be good in one direction but I don’t think we’ve really looked at its health and safety implications on the other side.”

A survey conducted at the end of November by the PMTC showed that about 25 percent of Canadian drivers crossing into the United States are not immune and nearly 50 percent of American drivers crossing into Canada are not immune. Once those mandates go into effect, according to Milliam, it will likely wipe out 25 percent of the workforce.

“We already had a shortage of driver jobs before we made any vaccine mandates and on top of that, we have supply chain issues to start with. We can usually go to the grocery store now and see at least one item not on the shelf but once we’ve eliminated 25 percent of the forces Working, I think it’s going to become a very common condition,” Milliam told Lynnwood Times.

In a recent Trucking HR Canada labor market survey, at the end of the third quarter of 2021, nearly 22,900 Canadian driver jobs had not been met and nearly 80,000 American driver jobs had not been met before the vaccine requirements were announced.

To view the survey conducted by Trucking HR Canada, click here.

Truck Driver State Vaccine
Source: Trucking HR Canada, 2021 and Statistics Canada. Table 10-14-0328-01 Vacancies, Percentage of Vacancies, and Average Hourly Wage Offered by Selected Characteristics, Quarterly, Unadjusted by Seasonality.

The PMTC has asked the Canadian government to put in place an extension to states, as a minimum, to provide drivers who may decide to get vaccinated the opportunity. In addition, they have requested that drivers be given the option to test regularly but the Canadian government has not responded to their requests.

Milliam has tried to encourage his drivers to get vaccinated, educating them about the benefits, but he shared with the Lynnwood Times that he doesn’t think vaccination rates will rise much higher in such a short time. For those who decide to vaccinate in order to keep their jobs, most will not be considered fully vaccinated by January 15, and will likely miss two to four weeks of work.

The Canadian and US governments first announced the vaccine mandates on November 5, 2021, to become effective eight weeks later. In Canada and the United States, there is a 28-day waiting period between each dose and an additional 14 days, after which the government considers a person to be “fully vaccinated”.

“If you had been on the phone the moment the government announced it, you would be able to book an appointment, and everything would have been fine, it would have taken at least six weeks. But we know that not always goes well, and you can’t Always get an appointment, and truck drivers are on the road for two weeks at a time, so not enough time to get vaccinated,” Milliam told the Lynwood Times.

Truck Driver State Vaccine
Land entry points between the United States and Canada.

The Private Motorized Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) had a call on January 12 with CBSA, PHAC and Transport Canada regarding the potential implications of the authorization, which relates to Canadian and non-Canadian drivers seeking to cross into the borders of both countries.

Since this policy was first raised in government departments, we have constantly communicated the environment this policy will create. We had hoped that US and Canadian officials would understand the effects this rule would have on our industry’s capacity levels. Unfortunately, at this point, neither Canadian nor US officials have changed their position on the matter,” the Transportation Management Center wrote in a January 12 press release.

In the United States, the American Trucking Association has formally asked the Biden administration to exempt professional truck drivers from mandating the vaccine, stating that truck drivers spend most of their work day alone in the cab and outdoors.

“Throughout the pandemic, they have demonstrated that they are operating safely following current CDC and OSHA guidelines. Our data indicates that the infection rate for employee drivers was 8.7%—well below the national infection rate,” the American Trucking Association (ATA) stated in a press release.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments by the ATA on Friday, January 7, out of 14 emergency motions. Although US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has indicated that the vaccine mandate may not apply to “most truck drivers,” the ATA’s request for official guidance on the matter is still pending.

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