Over the past couple weeks, COVID-19 vaccine eligibility has opened up across the country, with more than half the states expanding to include all adults ages 16 and up. This has led to a flood of eligible people vying for vaccination appointments and, in some cases, demand outpacing supply. Restaurant and other food service workers are among those who find themselves in competition for those coveted slots — and for many of them, there’s the added pressure of having to report for work in cities and states where restrictions on dining have been loosened or lifted.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel recommended in December that essential workers such as food service employees be prioritized in phase 1c of the vaccine rollout, following phase 1a’s health care personnel and nursing home residents, and phase 1b’s frontline essential workers — including food production and agriculture workers — and adults ages 75 and older. Ultimately, however, it was up to each state to decide how exactly to determine eligibility and implement rollout.
That has left restaurant workers, like grocery store workers before them, in a double bind: declared essential enough to keep restaurants and fast-food chains running, but not essential enough to receive vaccine prioritization in many states. Their situation is made even more precarious by the reopening of indoor dining and the relaxing of capacity and mask mandates in several states. In Texas, the New York Times points out, all adults 16+ are newly eligible after early access was strictly limited; all the while, masks and social distancing are no longer required, and businesses’ indoor capacity is back up to 100 percent.
In case it bears repeating once more: Restaurants, in which customers remove their masks for the purpose of eating and drinking in largely enclosed quarters, have been linked to rises in COVID infections and deaths, especially in areas without mask mandates, per a CDC study.
Some restaurant workers, many of whom are immigrants, may also be reluctant to register for vaccine doses because it requires leaving a record of their name, birth date, and other personal information.
Certain cities and counties, as well as individual restaurants and industry associations, have taken steps to target their workers for vaccination, the Times reports. Los Angeles County and Nashville have allocated some vaccine appointments specifically for food, agriculture, and hospitality workers. Restaurant owners and trade groups have organized vaccine drives for their employees, worked with clinics to set up worker vaccine sites. Other restaurants have committed to helping their employees secure appointments and providing time off for the shot and subsequent recovery period in case of side effects.