Frontline food industry workers prioritized for next phase of COVID-19 vaccination

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

d©GettyImages / usanpetkovic
d©GettyImages / usanpetkovic

Related tags: COVID-19, meat and poultry, Food safety

Frontline food industry workers will be among the first to be vaccinated after health care workers and those in long-term care facilities, according to federal guidance approved by the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Priority (ACIP).

In a follow-up meeting held on Dec. 20, 2020, AICP confirmed that following Phase 1a of the COVID-19 vaccination program – which gives first priority access of the vaccine to health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities – frontline essential workers, including those in the food manufacturing industry, would be shortlisted for vaccination as part of Phase 1b.

The CDC defines frontline essential workers as "workers who are in sectors essential to the functioning of society and are at substantially higher risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2"​ including first responders (firefighters, police), education (teachers, support staff, daycare), food & agriculture, manufacturing, corrections workers, US postal service workers, public transit workers, and grocery store workers.

Phase 1b group would also include individuals aged 75 years and older who account for 25% of COVID-19 associated hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

Read the CDC and AICP’s full COVID-10 vaccination program guidance HERE​.

Industry leaders welcome CDC decision

Identified as critical infrastructure sector by the Department of Homeland Security in March, the food manufacturing industry adopted comprehensive safety protocols developed by the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) early on after cases among workers began to spike.

In a letter to AICP the North American Meat Institute​ stated, “Like other critical infrastructure sectors, the meat and poultry industry was among the earliest to face the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, as scientific understanding knowledge of COVID-19 transmission and prevention improved, meat packing facilities have successfully implemented guidance for programs and controls to reduce cases and protect employee safety, despite worsening surges across the United States.”

According to the North American Meat Institute, with the safety measures in place cases amongst meatpacking facility employees have decreased significantly and now COVID-19 infection rates amongst meat and poultry workers are now more than eight times lower than in the general population.

“Meat Institute members stand ready to support vaccination for our diverse workforce, which will also deliver wide-ranging health benefits in rural and high-risk communities. Meat and poultry leaders may also be able to aid vaccination for all Americans, for example by offering state-of-the-art cold storage for these precious vaccines,"​ said North American Meat Institute president and CEO Julia Ann Potts.

The American Bakers Association​’s (ABA) President and CEO Robb MacKie, also welcomed the news, commenting, “We appreciate CDC’s prioritization recommendations recognizing bakers in phase 1b and encourage states and localities to adopt this critical recommendation. The vaccine prioritization of the food and agriculture sector’s essential workers is vital to ensure a safe, steady supply of food throughout the country.”

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