Vaccine Delays Leave Grocery Workers Feeling Expendable – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

When panicked Americans cleared supermarkets of toilet paper and groceries last spring, grocery workers were recognized as the most indispensable frontline workers in the pandemic.

A year later, most of these workers are waiting to receive COVID-19 vaccines without knowing exactly when it might happen.

A decentralized vaccination campaign has resulted in a patchwork of policies that vary from state to state and even county to county in some regions, resulting in inconsistent adoption of low-paid key workers exposed to hundreds of customers every day.

“Apparently we are not front workers when it comes to getting the vaccine. It was kind of a shock, ”said Dawn Hand, who works at a Kroger supermarket in Houston, where she said three of her employees were down with the virus last week. She watches as others are vaccinated in the shop pharmacy without knowing when it is her turn.

The Biden government says it is working to streamline the distribution process and send more doses to states every week.

Texas is one of several states that have decided to exclude food and other critical workers from the second phase of their vaccination efforts, giving priority to adults over 65 and people with chronic illnesses instead.

Focusing on older adults is an approach that many epidemiologists support as the most ethical and efficient, as it helps reduce deaths and hospital stays faster. People over 65 are responsible for 80% of deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Controls.

“Our primary goals with vaccines should be to reduce deaths and hospital stays,” said William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. “To do this, we need to start vaccinating those at the highest risk.”

However, many grocers were surprised and discouraged when they found they were being excluded from such guidelines, in part because a CDC panel had raised their expectations by recommending the second phase of the vaccine rollout – 1B – with groceries and other key staff .

Even if food workers are prioritized, they will have to wait a long time. New York opened vaccines to food workers in early January, along with other key employees and people 65 and over. However, the limited supply makes it difficult to book an appointment, especially for workers who don’t have large companies or unions to stand up for them.

Edward Lara had to close his small grocery store – known as Bodega – in the Bronx for 40 days when he and his staff contracted the virus last spring. He’s been trying to get a vaccine appointment for weeks and eventually found that he can register through a network of health care providers’ website, which will notify him when a slot is opened.

Lara’s father-in-law died of the virus in March. His mother-in-law died in November. A friend who manages his bodega’s insurance policy also died last week. And a cousin in New Jersey got the virus for the second time and was afraid it might happen to him.

“Nothing to do. Cross your fingers and hope that God will protect me,” said Lara after registering for the waiting list.

Only 13 states currently allow grocers to sign up for vaccines, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3 million U.S. food, meat packers, and other frontline workers.

Some states are still at an early stage where priority will be given to health workers and nursing home residents. Many states have divided the second phase into stages where food workers are 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 a study by United 4 Respect, a working group that advocates for workers at Walmart, Amazon, and other major retailers.

At the organic market of MOM, a grocery chain with 21 stores in the Mid Atlantic, Chief Culture Officer Jon Croft initially believed the company’s 1,500 employees would be vaccinated by the end of January. He now thinks it will be more like March or April. The company could only pre-register employees from two branches in Maryland and two in Virginia.

“People feel they deserve to be vaccinated because they have been on the front lines,” Croft said. “The politicians and the health department praised the food workers, but now they have remained silent.”

President Joe Biden is traveling to Milwaukee on his first trip from Washington since he took office. He will answer questions in a town hall, with a focus on the COVID-19 pandemic. With new cases falling and mortality rates improving, there are still serious challenges.

Big grocers say they are doing their part to ensure that their workers are vaccinated. Kroger, the country’s largest grocery chain, said it has vaccinated employees in Illinois since it was approved, but food workers are not yet approved in most of the countries the company operates in. Target and Walmart also said they would offer vaccines to their workers in their own pharmacies once they are eligible.

Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Target, and online delivery service Instacart have offered rewards or extra paid time off to workers who received the vaccine.

When Suffolk County’s Long Island grocery chain Lidl found out it was getting appointments for its local workers, it immediately contacted those it knew were at greatest risk. To date, more than 100 workers in Suffolk County have received gunfire.

Joseph Lupo, a Lidl supervisor who contracted the virus in March, is one of them.

“I never want to get COVID or see anyone else get it,” said Lupo, 59.

The hesitation of the vaccine in the black and brown community is causing many of the most vulnerable populations to pause before signing up for a COVID-19 vaccine. Doctors Jubril Oyeyemi and David Hayes-Bautista discuss how to fight vaccine fear in these communities.

But for many grocers, the realization that they will soon no longer be eligible contributes to the feeling of being expendable. They fought a largely lost risk-paying battle offered by a handful of companies in the spring, but it ended despite multiple resurrections from the virus.

A year into the pandemic, some shoppers are still refusing to wear masks, and managers often fail to force them to follow the rules.

“There are people who walk in halfway with a mask or take it off once they’re in the door,” said Drew Board, who does $ 13.50 an hour for grocery collection at a Walmart in Albemarle, North Carolina. earned . “I politely ask you to pull it up again and you will do it and then take it back down when you leave.”

Francisco Marte, president of New York’s Bodega and Small Business Association, said he urged his own workers not to risk their lives if faced with unmasked buyers. In August, a disgruntled customer cut thousands of dollars in goods at a Bronx bodega after being asked to wear a mask.

“It should be the job of the police,” said Marte, whose organization distributed 150,000 free masks in the spring when they were in short supply. “I tell staff to keep your distance and wear your mask, but don’t put yourself in danger because we are the ones to lose.”

When you finally get your COVID-19 vaccine, you might be tempted to celebrate by posting a picture of your vaccine card on social media. Resist this urge. LX host Nik Z spoke to Sandra Guile of the International Association of Better Business Bureaus about how this can leave you vulnerable to identity theft and other scams.

Marte said he has urged local officials to schedule vaccination appointments for bodega workers, many of whom are unaware that they are eligible. He hopes the recent opening of a major vaccination site at Yankee Stadium will facilitate access.

The virus continues its march through grocery stores.

There have been 137 COVID-19 outbreaks in grocery stores in southern California in the past two months and 500 grocery workers in Houston have been infected, according to the UFCW. The union is aware of 124 food workers who have died since the pandemic began.

Debbie Whipple, a scan manager at a Kroger in Fayetteville, Georgia, said her union, UFWC Local 1996, doesn’t expect Georgia to open vaccines to food workers until April at the earliest.

“We have to be here, just like a firefighter and a cop because people need food,” said Whipple, who described the frustration of seeing customers routinely walking barefoot and turning down offers of free masks. “We should get the vaccine.”

Associate press writer Anita Snow from Phoenix contributed to this report.

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