Employees at food processing facilities, who had early in the pandemic of the country’s largest known coronavirus outbreaks, are now eligible for vaccines in at least 26 states, a New York Times survey found.
The spread of vaccines to food processors comes amid the rapid expansion of the qualification, especially for essential workers who are at greater risk of contracting the virus. Almost every state is vaccinating some of the frontline workers, but the list of eligible professions varies greatly. In at least six states, food processing workers are eligible in some provinces, but not in other countries.
Meat and poultry processing facilities remained largely open, even though large outbreaks were infected thousands of workers and killed dozens in the first months of the pandemic. The virus quickly began to spread in meat packaging plants while assembly line workers stood side by side in tight spaces.
A pig production plant from JBS in the US in Worthington, Minn., With more than 700 recorded cases of coronavirus, held a mass vaccination event on Friday. JBS USA, a subsidiary of JBS SA, a Brazilian company that is the world’s largest meat processing company, has offered employees who receive the vaccine $ 100 incentives.
“There was a lot of skepticism among members, for many different reasons,” said Matt Utecht, who represents Worthington workers as president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 union. He said union representatives had repeatedly visited the facility in recent months to share information about the vaccine, reporting about 1,500 of the union’s approximately 1,850 members.
“It was a daily meal of education, talking, communicating,” he said.
Vaccine production and distribution are gradually increasing in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday that about 79.4 million people had received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, including about 43 million people who had been fully vaccinated. About 2.25 million doses are given on average every day, compared to less than a million two months ago.
As the demand for vaccines continues to outweigh the supply, states have competing interests to decide which groups to prioritize. Eligible for many food processors in early March in most of the Middle East, where meat packaging and food production are an important part of the economy and are often a source of employment for recent immigrants.
In Kansas, where food processors are now eligible for the vaccine, nearly 4,000 reported cases have been linked to outbreaks in meat packaging plants, more than in any other area other than long-term care centers and correctional facilities.
“This is a livelihood that supports a number of immigrant populations,” said Marci Nielsen, the Kansas governor’s chief adviser on Covid-19. “And it was very important for the governor to send out a signal that she wants to keep the families safe and keep these industries open.”