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Food, Agriculture Essential Workers Should Be Among Next in Line for Vaccine, CDC Panel Votes

Plus, $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program’s next round, and other news to start the day

Meat processing plant workers, wearing protective gear, at a conveyor belt line handling raw meat. Photo: El Nariz/Shutterstock

CDC panel votes to prioritize food and other essential workers, among other groups, for vaccination

Frontline essential workers, including those in the food production and agriculture sectors, should be next in line for the coronavirus vaccine, along with people ages 75 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed in an interim recommendation on December 20. The recommendation, voted on by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), would place the roughly 30 million frontline essential workers and the 19–21 million adults 75+ in phase 1b of the vaccine rollout, following phase 1a’s health care personnel and nursing home residents, who are currently being vaccinated.

The next phase, 1c, would cover other essential workers, including food service employees. The prioritization of such workers, as well as 1b’s frontline essential workers and 1a’s health care personnel, is meant to help achieve the “preservation of societal functioning,” according to a detailed overview of ACIP’s Sunday meeting. That need is balanced with the goal of “prevention of morbidity and mortality” achieved by concurrently prioritizing 1a’s nursing home residents, 1b’s people ages 75 and older, and 1c’s people ages 65–74 and people with high-risk medical conditions.

The food supply industry has lobbied for prioritization of its workers when it comes to vaccination, Food Dive reported in November. More than 77,000 workers in the food system — including 51,519 meatpacking workers, 14,262 food processing workers, and 11,405 farm workers — have tested positive for COVID-19 as of December 18, FERN reports. At least 347 have died.

“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,” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said, per Food Dive. ACIP’s vote recognizes the “vital role these essential workers continue to serve as the pandemic worsens,” according to the union.

Next, ACIP’s interim recommendation has to be accepted by CDC director Robert Redfield. Although these recommendations are not legally binding directives, state and local health officials use them to guide how they implement vaccine rollout.

And in other news…

  • The latest $900 billion stimulus package — which Eater NY’s Ryan Sutton covers in detail here — allocates $284 billion to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, including $20 billion for companies in low-income areas. [NRN]
  • The world’s first gin in a paper-based bottle is launching next year, and other drinks may be soon to follow. [Guardian]
  • Kellogg’s Smorz is the cereal that will not die. [Food Business News]
  • How will we eat in 2021? [NYT]

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