A few weeks ago, Suncor employees Curtis Medveszek and Deana Zimmer-Haas were hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccination. Like many, they’d seen posts on social media about the potential risks of getting the vaccine. 

“We were going back and forth,” says Deana, a supervisor in Tailings Maintenance at Suncor’s Base Plant near Fort McMurray. “You hear all the conspiracy theories, but we talked to friends of ours who got us thinking differently about it. We want to travel, so we’re going to have to get vaccinated. We’ve gotten Twinrix without any second thoughts, and we’ve also been vaccinated against other diseases.  So I’m not sure what we were so afraid of. We just decided this was the right thing to do to ensure our health and the health of others.”

The couple, who have been together for three years, received their vaccinations at the same time, which was helpful for Deana who’s terrified of needles, “even though I’ve had four kids,” she says with a laugh.

“Honestly looking back, I chuckle at myself for being so apprehensive. Oh my, that was so easy. I’m hoping that Suncor can do the second dose as well. It was amazing; it was so streamlined and convenient.”

That’s good validation for the team who  pulled the clinics together in a hurry when Alberta Health Services (AHS) reached out on May 3 with an offer of 4,500 doses of the Moderna mRNA vaccine. A Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) Vaccination Task Force was quickly stood up to plan clinics at Base Plant, MacKay River, Fort Hills and Firebag during the week of May 10.

“Once we got word from AHS, the clock was ticking and we had to move,” says Thomas Horner, who led the planning effort for Suncor. “We knew it was a fantastic opportunity for our employees and contractors to have this made available to them, and so important for the region too.”

Once the information was live on suncor.com, it didn’t take employees long to sign up. James Pauls, shift supervisor in Suncor’s Millennium Extraction, was first in line. He knows vaccinations are our shot at getting out of the pandemic, and had been planning on getting vaccinated with his wife in Edmonton where he lives, but was struggling to land a spot on a waiting list.

“Having it at Base Plant was a lot easier. The process was very simple, they took my personal information, and then I got the shot,” he says.

A former resident of Fort McMurray, James was happy to do his part for the community, which is experiencing what’s being called a ‘tidal wave’ of the virus. “It was a good feeling knowing you’re doing what you can especially with the amount of workers we have on site. You do the best you can with physical distancing and wearing masks, but getting vaccinated is one more step to keeping everyone safe.”

worker sitting on a chair across a nurse and both of them are putting a thumbs up
James Pauls was first in line to receive his vaccine at the Base Plant clinic.

While side effects vary from person to person, James only experienced a tender arm, similar to an annual flu shot. “I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about the vaccine, but there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Thomas says he’s heard good feedback from employees and contractors who received their vaccination. “I think they appreciate having the opportunity to take part so I think everybody is feeling good. You could tell from their eyes they were smiling.”

The response wasn’t led by Suncor alone. Syncrude and CNRL were also at the table as part of the Oil Sands Community Alliance. Learnings from their clinics were used to help ensure the Suncor clinics were a success. It’s far from the first time Suncor has teamed up with other major employers in the region to do the right thing.

“We wanted to act according to our purpose and values, as we did during the floods in Calgary in 2013, the RMWB fire five years ago, or the floods in Fort McMurray last year. Suncor is great when it comes to rising to those challenges, and that's something I take great pride in as a Suncor employee because Suncor employees and contractors, as well as our partners and peers, pull together in a crisis.”

room with chairs distanced 2 metres apart with people sitting on them waiting to get vaccinated
The vaccine clinic at Steepbank 

He talks about other folks who were initially hesitant, including one employee who was a firm ‘no’ on getting a vaccine but ultimately joined in because he didn’t want any vaccines to go to waste. By the end of Sunday, more than 2,800 doses had been administered.

We are aware there is some misinformation being shared about Suncor's approach to vaccinations. Vaccinations are not mandatory for our workforce.