BISMARCK — North Dakota will soon begin providing COVID-19 vaccinations to Manitoba-based truck drivers after leaders in the state and Canadian province came to a "continental first" cross-border agreement.

Gov. Doug Burgum and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced on Tuesday, April 20, that North Dakota will provide vaccines to as many as 4,000 Canadian truck drivers who regularly cross the border on their routes. The state will set up a vaccination clinic starting Wednesday at a rest area along Interstate 29 near Drayton, about 30 miles south of a frequently traversed commercial border crossing.

The clinic will be open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays when many Manitoba truckers return to Canada. The shots will be free, and federal funds will cover the full cost of running the clinic, Burgum said.

The unconventional arrangement comes as a result of contrasting pandemic circumstances faced by North Dakota and Manitoba.

The United States has been a worldwide leader in vaccine rollout, and 46% of all eligible North Dakotans have received at least one shot. North Dakota's pace of COVID-19 infections and deaths has significantly fallen since a peak in November. In recent weeks, North Dakota has seen the rate of vaccination slow as demand for the jab wanes, especially among young residents and those living along the western edge of the state.

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Canada has been less successful in obtaining doses, and only a quarter of Manitoba adults have been vaccinated. The province is also battling a "third wave" of COVID-19 infections and has maintained masking requirements, travel quarantine rules and limitations on gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.

Administering shots to a limited number of Manitobans won't compromise North Dakota's ability to vaccinate residents of the state, and the supply chain of jabs from the federal government remains healthy, Burgum said.

Both leaders hailed the deal announced Tuesday as a trailblazing victory for health care and a demonstration of the strong bond between the state and the province.

"In the small rural communities where we grew up, it was always about neighbors helping neighbors," Burgum said. "We're grateful for the opportunity to collaborate in this life-saving effort."

Pallister said the two territories are coming together to form "Team North America" at a difficult time, and he hopes the new program will lay the groundwork for a full reopening of the border in the near future. Nonessential travel across the border has been restricted since March 2020.

The leaders said they are interested in expanding the program further, but Burgum did not offer specific details on increasing the number of doses available to Manitoba residents. The Republican governor noted that he has spoken with Saskatchewan officials about providing vaccinations to oil workers from the western province who travel across the border.