A vaccine could “ensure that agricultural and food supply chains remain operating,” a letter cosigned by 15 industry groups states.

By Mike Pomranz
November 16, 2020
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In the COVID-19 era, not all jobs are created equal: Some are more “essential” than others, and to keep America running, these essential workers have been prioritized to remain on the job during the pandemic. So when a vaccine becomes available, will the same essential workers receive priority for vaccination, too? Some major members of the U.S. food industry hopes so.

Last week, a group of 15 food and beverage groups—including the American Frozen Food Institute, the International Dairy Foods Association, the National Grocers Association, the National Restaurant Association, and the North American Meat Institute—all signed a letter addressed to President Trump stating that they “strongly support prioritizing essential workers in critical infrastructure industries, including those responsible for ensuring the continuity of our nation’s food supply.” The letter explains, “Our members have been on the front lines of the response to the pandemic by continuing operations and ensuring Americans have access to safe, nutritious, and affordable food. Challenges have taxed the food supply chain over the past eight months, but the food, agriculture, manufacturing, and retail industries are resilient, and the supply chains have not broken.”

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According to Food Dive, these same 15 associations have reached out to the White House before, but as news broke that Pfizer had made significant progress with their vaccine, they decided it was a good time for a reminder. And in case a vaccine doesn’t arrive as quickly as hoped, they’ve reportedly already reached out to President-elect Biden’s transition team as well.

The CDC does have a COVID-19 vaccination “playbook” which discusses prioritizing certain groups. Healthcare workers are earmarked for top priority, followed by non-medical essential workers, people with high-risk medical conditions, and people 65 years of age or older. Among essential workers, “food packaging and distribution workers” are specifically given as an example. That said, the food and beverage industry stresses that this playbook needs to be backed up by action, both in the orchestration of a vaccine’s distribution as well as educating the public “to ensure widespread and sustained acceptance of vaccinations.”

The food industry has reason to remain concerned, as meatpacking facilities and farms were especially hard hit. And though they’ve persevered so far, their letter adds, “Prioritizing vaccinations for food, agriculture, retail, and CPG workers will be a key intervention to help keep workers healthy and to ensure that agricultural and food supply chains remain operating.”