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COVID-19 pandemic | Vaccine delays leave grocery workers in US feeling expendable

Texas is among several states that have decided to leave grocery and other essential workers out of the second phase of its vaccination effort, instead prioritising adults over 65 and people with chronic medical conditions.

February 16, 2021 / 04:48 PM IST
As panicked Americans cleared supermarkets of toilet paper and food last spring, grocery employees gained recognition as among the most indispensable of the pandemic's front-line workers. A year later, most of those workers are waiting their turn to receive COVID-19 vaccines, with little clarity about when it may come. (Image: AP)
As panicked Americans cleared supermarkets of toilet paper and food last spring, grocery employees gained recognition as among the most indispensable of the pandemic's front-line workers. A year later, most of those workers are waiting their turn to receive COVID-19 vaccines, with little clarity about when it may come. (Image: AP)
A decentralized vaccine campaign has resulted in patchwork of policies that differ from state to state, and even county to county in some areas, resulting in an inconsistent rollout to low-paid essential workers who are exposed to hundreds of customers each day. “Apparently we are not front-line workers when it comes to getting the vaccine. That was kind of a shock,” said Dawn Hand, who works at a Kroger supermarket in Houston, where she said three of her co-workers were out with the virus last week. She watches others getting vaccinated at the in-store pharmacy without knowing when she'll get her turn. (Image: AP)
A decentralized vaccine campaign has resulted in patchwork of policies that differ from state to state, and even county to county in some areas, resulting in an inconsistent rollout to low-paid essential workers who are exposed to hundreds of customers each day. “Apparently we are not front-line workers when it comes to getting the vaccine. That was kind of a shock,” said Dawn Hand, who works at a Kroger supermarket in Houston, where she said three of her co-workers were out with the virus last week. She watches others getting vaccinated at the in-store pharmacy without knowing when she'll get her turn. (Image: AP)
Texas is among several states that have decided to leave grocery and other essential workers out of the second phase of its vaccination effort, instead prioritizing adults over 65 and people with chronic medical conditions. (Image: AP)
Texas is among several states that have decided to leave grocery and other essential workers out of the second phase of its vaccination effort, instead prioritizing adults over 65 and people with chronic medical conditions. (Image: AP)
Focusing on older adults is an approach many epidemiologists support as the most ethical and efficient because it will help reduce deaths and hospitalizations faster. People over 65 account for 80 percent of deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention. “Our main goals with vaccines should be reducing deaths and hospitalizations,” said William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. “In order to do that, we need to begin vaccinating those at the highest risks.” (Image: AP)
Focusing on older adults is an approach many epidemiologists support as the most ethical and efficient because it will help reduce deaths and hospitalizations faster. People over 65 account for 80 percent of deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention. “Our main goals with vaccines should be reducing deaths and hospitalizations,” said William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. “In order to do that, we need to begin vaccinating those at the highest risks.” (Image: AP)
But many grocery workers have been surprised and disheartened to find that they've been left out of such policies, in part because a CDC panel had raised their expectations by recommending the second phase of the vaccine rollout — 1B — include grocery and other essential employees. (Image: AP)
But many grocery workers have been surprised and disheartened to find that they've been left out of such policies, in part because a CDC panel had raised their expectations by recommending the second phase of the vaccine rollout — 1B — include grocery and other essential employees. (Image: AP)
Even when grocery workers are prioritized, they still face long waits. New York opened up vaccines to grocery workers in early January, along with other essential employees and anyone 65 and over. But limited supply makes booking an appointment difficult, even more so for the workers who don’t have large companies or unions to advocate for them. (Image: AP)
Even when grocery workers are prioritized, they still face long waits. New York opened up vaccines to grocery workers in early January, along with other essential employees and anyone 65 and over. But limited supply makes booking an appointment difficult, even more so for the workers who don’t have large companies or unions to advocate for them. (Image: AP)
Only 13 states are currently allowing grocery workers to sign up for vaccines, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3 million U.S. grocery, meatpacking and other front-line workers. Some states are still working through an initial phase that prioritizes health workers and nursing home residents. Many states have divided the second phase into tiers that put grocery workers lower than others, including people 65 and over, teachers and first responders. Eleven states have no clear plan for prioritizing grocery workers at all, according to research from United 4 Respect, a labor group that advocates for workers at Walmart, Amazon and other major retailers. (Image: AP)
Only 13 states are currently allowing grocery workers to sign up for vaccines, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3 million U.S. grocery, meatpacking and other front-line workers. Some states are still working through an initial phase that prioritizes health workers and nursing home residents. Many states have divided the second phase into tiers that put grocery workers lower than others, including people 65 and over, teachers and first responders. Eleven states have no clear plan for prioritizing grocery workers at all, according to research from United 4 Respect, a labor group that advocates for workers at Walmart, Amazon and other major retailers. (Image: AP)
At MOM’s Organic Market, a 21-store grocery chain in the Mid-Atlantic region, chief culture officer Jon Croft initially thought the company’s 1,500 workers would be vaccinated by the end of January. He now thinks it will be more like March or April. The company has only been able to pre-register workers from two stores in Maryland and two in Virginia. (Image: AP)
At MOM’s Organic Market, a 21-store grocery chain in the Mid-Atlantic region, chief culture officer Jon Croft initially thought the company’s 1,500 workers would be vaccinated by the end of January. He now thinks it will be more like March or April. The company has only been able to pre-register workers from two stores in Maryland and two in Virginia. (Image: AP)
Major food retailers say they are doing their part to get their workers vaccinated. Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, said it has been vaccinating employees in Illinois ever since they became eligible, but grocery workers aren’t yet eligible in most of the jurisdictions in which the company operates. Target and Walmart also said they would offer their workers vaccines at their own pharmacies as soon as they are eligible. (Image: AP)
Major food retailers say they are doing their part to get their workers vaccinated. Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, said it has been vaccinating employees in Illinois ever since they became eligible, but grocery workers aren’t yet eligible in most of the jurisdictions in which the company operates. Target and Walmart also said they would offer their workers vaccines at their own pharmacies as soon as they are eligible. (Image: AP)
But for many grocery workers, the realization that they won’t be eligible any time soon adds to the sense of being expendable. They have fought a mostly losing battle for hazard pay, which a handful of companies offered in the spring but ended despite multiple resurgences of the vaccine. A year into the pandemic, some shoppers still refuse to wear masks and managers often don’t force them to follow the rules. (Image: AP)
But for many grocery workers, the realization that they won’t be eligible any time soon adds to the sense of being expendable. They have fought a mostly losing battle for hazard pay, which a handful of companies offered in the spring but ended despite multiple resurgences of the vaccine. A year into the pandemic, some shoppers still refuse to wear masks and managers often don’t force them to follow the rules. (Image: AP)
The virus, meanwhile, continues its march through grocery stores. Over the past two months, there have been 137 COVID-19 outbreaks in Southern California grocery stores, and 500 Houston grocery workers have been infected, according to the UFCW. The union knows of 124 grocery workers who have died since the start of the pandemic. (Image: AP)
The virus, meanwhile, continues its march through grocery stores. Over the past two months, there have been 137 COVID-19 outbreaks in Southern California grocery stores, and 500 Houston grocery workers have been infected, according to the UFCW. The union knows of 124 grocery workers who have died since the start of the pandemic. (Image: AP)
Associated Press

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