WASHINGTON – The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) urged federal authorities to prioritize meat and poultry plant workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after health care workers, first responders and those in long-term care facilities.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents meat plant workers, reported 128 meat plant worker deaths and 19,800 workers infected or exposed to the virus.

“The men and women of the meat and poultry industry help keep America’s grocery stores stocked and our farm economy working,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of NAMI. “They should be highly prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination, following our nation's brave health care workers.”

NAMI said the meat industry has spent more than $1 billion to implement recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) — such as  physical adaptations to facilities, personal protective equipment, enhanced sanitation, advanced ventilation systems, extensive testing and contact tracing, enhanced health care services, and more — aimed at protecting and supporting meat plant workers.

“The meat and poultry industry was among the first sectors to be challenged with the pandemic, and since March the industry has implemented effective programs and controls to stop the spread of COVID,” Potts said. “Our efforts are working, but access to vaccines remains the most critical tool to protect this critical infrastructure workforce.”

NAMI added that including meat plant workers in the first phase of vaccinations would:

  • Increase health equity as the workforce is highly diverse and includes populations the CDC has also identified as greatly affected by COVID-19;
  • Strengthen vaccine distribution in rural communities with limited health care infrastructure, where meat and poultry facilities are major employers; and
  • Maximize efficiency using existing protocols and procedures that make meat and poultry facilities ideal locations to efficiently distribute vaccines, especially those facilities with medical staff on site.

In written comments to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), KatieRose McCullough, PhD, MPH, director, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs for NAMI, said, “…Cases amongst meatpacking facility employees have decreased significantly, but vaccination remains a critical tool for effectively protecting meatpacking employees, while keeping America’s farms working and grocery stores stocked.”