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VCH sets up pop-up vaccine clinic for Pemberton grocery store workers

Last-minute clinic comes following lobbying from local officials and business leaders
Eligible Pemberton Valley Supermarket staff could receive their COVID-19 vaccine today thanks to a last-minute clinic set up by Vancouver Coastal Health.

Following lobbying from local officials, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) arranged a last-minute vaccine clinic for Pemberton grocery store workers today. 

In an information bulletin Friday, April 30, VCH said the pop-up clinic is running from noon to 6 p.m. today at the Pemberton Community Centre. Those eligible are Pemberton grocery store workers aged 30 and up, who will receive the AztraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine. For those wanting a different vaccine, VCH anticipates inviting grocery store staff in the health region to obtain the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in late May or early June.

“At least there’s the opportunity for them now,” said Pemberton Valley Supermarket (PVS) founding partner Sue Adams, who had written letters to local officials pushing for her staff to be immunized.

The clinic appears to have come together at the last minute, with the PVS management only notified of the pop-up at 10 a.m. this morning.

“[We] have notified as many people as we could as not all our staff are here today but we made phone calls and left messages as well as posted it on our employee-only Facebook page,” explained store GM Kirsten McLeod in an email, adding that, because the AstraZeneca vaccine is only available to those aged 30 and up, there remains “a lot of employees” younger than the cutoff age who are not eligible for today’s clinic.

McLeod estimated that about a dozen of the approximately 85 full-time and part-time workers at the supermarket had been vaccinated prior to today through the B.C. government’s age-based and Indigenous immunizations plans. Averaging just over 1,000 customers a day, the supermarket has stayed open throughout the pandemic and has served as a crucial life-line to the community, delivering groceries and even medical prescriptions to residents as the pandemic wore on.

“We’ve done everything as far as social distancing, different lunchrooms,” McLeod said. “We’ve done everything in our power at this time to protect our staff outside of the vaccine.”

Pemberton retail staff also had to watch as the majority of Whistler adults and workers were immunized between April 12 and 18 as part of a mass vaccination campaign organized by VCH, an effort to target COVID hotspots around the province.

Given the close ties between the two neighbouring communities, it makes sense to vaccinate Pemberton’s frontline staff as well, said McLeod.

“Not only do a lot of people work in Whistler who live in Pemberton, but people who live in Whistler also come up to Pemberton to bike,” she said.

Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman has been “pounding the drum” on behalf of local frontline workers for some time now, and said the message seems to have sunk in with health officials.

“I feel like anybody frontline that has been serving the public over the last 13 months needs and deserves that protection, whether it’s gas station workers, restaurant workers, retail, anybody frontline that is serving tourists,” he said. “If supplies allow, I feel like they should definitely be a priority.”

VCH said it has so far delivered 17,100 doses of vaccine to residents of Whistler and its neighbouring communities. Pique has asked for clarification on whether that number includes just Pemberton and Squamish, or other communities in the Howe Sound health region.