Inconsistent Vaccine Priority Frustrates Food Industry

March 2, 2021
States are inconsistent in deciding whether food processing workers should get a high priority for the coronavirus vaccine, and it’s frustrating some workers and others.

States are inconsistent in deciding whether food processing workers, especially meat and poultry plant employees, should get a high priority for the coronavirus vaccine, and it’s frustrating some workers and others.

Some states are putting meat plant workers in the second wave of priority for the vaccines, behind health-care workers. However, others aren’t giving them any priority at all, notwithstanding that 284 meat plant workers have died of COVID, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that food and agriculture workers receive a high priority for the vaccine, even ahead of senior citizens and people with health conditions. However, states are responding inconsistently.

“Unfortunately it’s just been kind of a potluck at the state level,” the president of the North American Meat Institute told Reuters.

In South Dakota, which saw massive COVID outbreaks in meat plants with five deaths, the next wave of shots is going to teachers, funeral home workers and people with underlying health conditions. Meat plant workers there might not get vaccinated until next month. North Carolina’s agricultural commissioner says migrant farmworkers, who are beginning to arrive from Mexico, are not yet eligible for shots. In California’s heavily rural Sacramento County, food plant workers had been designated for the second wave of shots, but found themselves removed from the priority list with no explanation.

Meat processing companies, including Tyson, Cargill and JBS, have been offering employees vaccines on-site, but they can’t deal directly with drug manufacturers; they need to source vaccines from the same places as everyone else.

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