A requirement that foreign nationals entering the U.S. and Canada be vaccinated for COVID-19 is exacerbating the supply chain logjam, according to freight industry groups who say they can’t find enough vaccinated drivers to bring goods across the U.S.-Canada border.
The U.S. government argues the new requirement has had little such impact and argues the public health benefits make the mandate worthwhile.
The U.S. on Jan. 22 began imposing the vaccine requirement on all non-U.S. individuals traveling for both essential and nonessential reasons. The restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens entering the U.S.
Canada began requiring northbound truckers and other incoming visitors to be vaccinated beginning Jan. 15, which has triggered a number of protests by Canadian truckers, including one leading to blockades in the Canadian capital and at a border crossing. Mexico has no such requirement.
The freight industry said the impact has been immediate, with fewer drivers able to cross the border and prices spiking as a result. The scarcity of drivers, they say, has translated into long waits for available trucks and a resulting ground backlog akin to what’s being seen in ports for ocean freight.
Anne Reinke, president and CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, said although the requirement has been in place for only a few days, “we’ve seen an impact.”
The association’s members represent the third-party logistics industry, which arranges transportation between shippers and drivers. Reinke said her organization is arguing to restore an exemption for truck drivers, saying the solitary nature of their work makes them a minimal threat. The original cross-border vaccine requirement, imposed Nov. 8, applied only to those traveling for “nonessential purposes.”
“Is this going to help the health and safety of the American population, or just make the supply chain worse?” she asked.
The association estimates that about 10 percent of U.S. truck drivers are unvaccinated — a number that puts pressure on a supply chain where capacity is already at 100 percent. She did not quantify the impact of the vaccination requirement.
Bob Costello, chief economist and senior vice president of international trade policy and cross-border operations for the American Trucking Associations, said the mandate “has the potential to cause significant disruptions across the supply chain with our largest trading partner.”
“Right now, fleets are doing their best to get freight moved, but most are unable to move as many loads as they were prior to the mandate’s effective date because of a lack of vaccinated drivers,” he said.
But a DHS spokesman said as of Friday, the updated requirements had not resulted in operational disruptions.
“Wait times remain at normal levels,” the spokesman said, adding that because the requirements were first announced in October 2021 and originally applied only to those traveling for nonessential purposes, truckers had “ample” time to be vaccinated.
“Vaccination requirements have proven effective at increasing vaccinations and have been implemented in a range of industries and settings with no disruptions to operations,” the spokesman said, noting that the requirements align public health measures that govern land travel with those that govern incoming international air travel.
Still, Reinke’s organization asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to reinstate an exemption for truckers in a Jan. 25 letter, calling the order “a disastrous scenario for every stakeholder involved.”
In Canada, the requirements have caused protests by drivers. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which condemned the protests, has estimated that some 12,000 Canadian truckers will be unable to work cross-border shipping routes because of the vaccination requirement.
Though the CTA warned of the potential supply chain impact of the mandate, it has also vowed to work with the government of Canada, recently issuing a joint statement with the Canadian government saying that both parties “agree that vaccination, used in combination with preventative public health measures, is the most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for Canadians, and to protect public health.”
Joe Chandler, president of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based SPI Logistics, said he has seen an immediate impact from the order.
He said if the order were “ever going to go off without a hitch,” it would be this month, when post-Christmas freight ebbs. But even before the Canadian order went into effect, drivers “didn’t want to go south, because they knew they couldn’t get back in.”
Chandler said since the requirement went into place, his company has reported that rates for regular shipments from Virginia to Toronto have increased 45 percent. Manitoba, meanwhile, is reporting rate increases of up to 60 percent. The company’s Quebec office reports rate increases ranging from 30 percent to 100 percent.
He said large Canadian carriers have advised his company that they expect to lose 10 to 20 percent of their cross-border workforces, creating backlogs and service delays.
“We would just like to return to the essential worker exemption that existed in the past for truck drivers,” Chandler said, saying it would have to be in both Canada and the United States. “They are keeping the supply chain moving.”