Frontline essential workers, including those in the food and agriculture industry, should be in the second group to receive COVID-19 vaccines, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday.

The recommendations, which now go to CDC Director Robert Redfield for approval, would provide a framework for states to determine who should receive the vaccine after members of the Phase 1a group (healthcare workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities) are vaccinated.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 in favor of the plan put forth by an ACIP work group, which puts the nation’s approximately 30 million frontline essential workers and 19 million persons aged 75 and over in Phase 1B. “Grocery store workers” and those in “food and agriculture” and “manufacturing” also are specifically listed in the second phase (See this document from the advisory committee for more information.).

The next phase, Phase 1C, includes “other essential workers.” Those include food service workers and those in energy, and transportation and logistics, senior citizens younger than 75 and those aged 16-64 years old with underlying medical conditions.

The only dissenting vote was pediatrician and Hofstra/Northwell professor Henry Bernstein, who said he thought 65-74-year-olds should have been in the second group.

Nancy Messonier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told the advisory committee, “I clearly heard the need to sub-prioritize based on age groups” as well as the need to be clearer about prioritizing people with high-risk medical conditions.

Groups representing food manufacturers and meatpackers urged states to follow the committee's recommendations. 

“The federal government has now provided clear guidance as to the target population for the next round of vaccines, and we strongly encourage states and localities to heed this guidance. As we head into the throes of winter, our industry’s essential manufacturing workers must be vaccinated to ensure shelves are stocked and Americans can continue to stay home and stay safe as the country turns the corner on this life-altering pandemic," said the Consumer Brands Association, which represents major food companies such as Conagra, General Mills, Hormel, Land O'Lakes and Pepsico. 

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The North American Meat Institute said meat and poultry processors "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."

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union also applauded the committee's vote.

“America’s essential workers in grocery, meatpacking, and food processing have been on the frontlines of this deadly pandemic since day one, putting themselves in harm’s way to feed our families during this crisis,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said. With COVID-19 cases continuing to skyrocket, hundreds of these essential workers have already died and thousands more are infected daily as they serve our country by keeping our food supply secure.”

"Protecting our country’s food workers is essential to keeping our communities safe and stopping future outbreaks in these high-exposure workplaces,” Perrone said. “CDC Director Redfield must recognize the vital role these essential workers serve by ensuring that they are among the first to receive access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

During public comments, Maria María Perales Sanchez of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Migrant Rights Center), spoke in favor of specifically referencing farmworkers and food supply workers in the CDC guidance.

“During the pandemic, they have recently received the title of essential worker,” she said. “However, workers report to us that they are not receiving the necessary enforceable protections to be safe at the workplace.”

Before the meeting, groups representing the food and ag industry submitted comments supporting a high priority for their workers. including FMI-the Food Industry Association and the Food and Beverage Issue Alliance, which includes a wide variety of about two dozen groups.

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