WASHINGTON — A group of 15 food and beverage associations, including the North American Meat Institute, FMI – The Food Industry Association, National Grocers Association and National Restaurant Association, has requested priority access to COVID-19 vaccines to protect workers and keep the food supply chain running.
The groups made their plea in a Nov. 11 letter to President Donald Trump. A similar letter was sent to Trump in late June.
“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,” the groups noted in the letter. “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.
“Once a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, it is imperative that we have a federally orchestrated vaccine distribution program and prioritization of vaccination among population groups.”
As it currently stands, the administration’s COVID-19 “playbook” considers prioritizing four groups for COVID-19 vaccinations if the initial supply is limited. The four groups include: health care personnel (paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials); non-health care essential workers; adults with high-risk medical conditions who possess risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness; and people 65 years of age and older (including those living in long-term care facilities).
The groups said they “strongly support” prioritizing essential workers in critical infrastructure industries, including those responsible for ensuring the continuity of the nation’s food supply.
“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,” the groups said. “To ensure a successful vaccination campaign, a strong, coordinated, public education campaign will be required to ensure widespread and sustained acceptance of vaccinations. The playbook provides a roadmap for doing so. We encourage the administration to begin activating this as soon as possible.”
The letter also outlined the food and beverage groups’ desire to see the administration leverage state and local cooperative public health organizations to address challenges that may arise and to help ensure consistent communication nationwide.
“The agricultural, food manufacturing, distribution and retail industries will continue to fulfill the ‘special responsibility’ critical infrastructure industries carry, and we are proud that our industry’s workforce has selflessly persevered to feed America,” the groups said. “We also look forward to partnering with the administration to reinforce the importance and safety of vaccinations and ensuring our essential workers can access and receive vaccinations when available.”