Meat plant workers need to be a priority for COVID-19 vaccine, say processors

Employees at Maple Leaf’s pork processing plant at Brandon, Man. (courtesy Maple Leaf Foods)

Since the spring, packing plants and their workers have been under the microscope in dealing with COVID-19. Early on, plants scrambled to get ahead of the virus while workers attempted to follow new protocols to keep themselves safe.

The Canadian Meat Council, which represents federally licensed meat packers and processors, is now asking for essential workers at processing plants to be a priority group to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, noting the meat industry was among the first sectors to be challenged with the pandemic and how, since March, the industry has implemented effective mitigation measures, programs, and controls to stop of the virus’ spread.

“We are urging the government to prioritize the COVID-19 vaccination for those working in the meat industry, following first-responders, healthcare workers, those in long-term care facilities and other front-line workers,” says Chris White, president of the Canadian Meat Council (CMC). “Our efforts are working, but access to vaccines remains the most critical tool to protect this critical workforce and ensure that Canadians can always find meat on the shelves at their grocery store.”

The council says the request is consistent with the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s guidance on who should get the early COVID-19 immunizations, and in line with recommendations from the top scientists and experts on infectious diseases.

“Immunizing essential workers minimizes the disproportionate burden of those taking on additional risks to maintain services essential for the functioning of society. In addition, racialized populations and recent immigrants are over-represented in jobs providing essential services (e.g., food production, healthcare settings), and have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” notes NACI — the national committee advising how the vaccine should be distributed.

Citing NACI’s guidelines, the CMC and a coalition include 13 other organizations signed a letter on Tuesday in support of vaccination priority for agri-food workers.

A similar push is underway in the U.S. in a joint effort by the North American Meat Institute, National Pork Council, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to secure the food chain and keep plant workers healthy.  A letter dated December 4th was distributed to state governors to push for support of meat workers, and according to Meat and Poultry, Kansas governor Laura Kelly indicated meatpacking plants will be near the top of the priority list to receive the COVID-19 vaccination her state, after healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities.

COVID-19 outbreaks at packing plants were leading the news cycle in the spring, but that does not mean the challenges of keeping workers safe has subsided. Last week the JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado took extra preventative measures to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Even with the challenges faced by the meat industry in dealing with COVID-19, the Canadian Center of Food Integrity recently released data showing that Canadians’ trust in the food system has increased during the pandemic.

Categories: Cattle / COVID-19 / Livestock / News / Pork / Poultry