CDC: Grocery Workers Should Be in Next Group to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Front-line essential workers ahead of other essential workers in CDC recommendations
Photograph: Shutterstock

Grocery-store workers are part of the group that should be next to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) committee is urging.

The CDC advisory committee, made up largely of hospital physicians and health department officials from across the country, voted 13–1 on Dec. 20 to recommend priority vaccine distribution for front-line essential workers and individuals over the age of 75. This recommendation places front-line essential workers in a "1B" position, right behind healthcare workers and long-term-care-facility residents and personnel, for COVID-19 vaccine access.

Who's considered a front-line essential worker? Beyond grocery-store workers, manufacturing workers, police and fire personnel, teachers and corrections officers are part of this group. The "front-line" designation is meaningful because other essential workers, including restaurant/foodservice workers, transportation workers and construction workers, are considered part of a "1C" group.

The advisory committee's recommendation goes for final approval to CDC Director Robert Redfield, who then will issue formal guidance to states. Ultimately, state officials are in charge of making final decisions about which groups of individuals and workers in their respective states will be next in line for COVID-19 vaccination.

For workers in industries designated as essential and critical, "early vaccine access is critical not only to protect them but also to maintain the essential services they provide U.S. communities," the CDC's website states.

Reaction to the committee's recommendation on vaccine prioritization rolled in on Dec. 21. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) labor union, which numbers 1.3 million members in the U.S. and Canada, shared news of the recommendation on Twitter, stating: "UFCW essential workers are bravely serving on front lines in grocery stores and meatpacking plants. Protecting them is key to stopping future outbreaks." 

The Consumer Brands Association, advocating for packaged goods manufacturers, hailed the advisory committee's recommendation and strongly encouraged states to follow it. "The consumer packaged goods industry’s 1.7 million essential workers have been there since the beginning of the pandemic, making sure that Americans have the life-sustaining products they need—from hand sanitizer and disinfectants to food and beverages," the association stated in a news release. "The industry is grateful for the CDC’s recognition of the critical role they play by prioritizing them for vaccinations in phase 1b."

Retail and food production trade groups have been calling for priority access to COVID-19 vaccines as they become available. Earlier this month, a group of meat-industry trade groups, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, sent a letter to U.S. governors calling for meat and poultry workers to get high-priority vaccine access, stating that meat processing facilities' COVID-19 prevention protocols place them "in an ideal position to administer the vaccine to many people in an orderly and efficient fashion."

The National Retail Federation sought similar consideration in a letter to the CDC advisory committee on Dec. 16, stating: "The retail industry directly employs 32 million Americans, and we cannot lose sight of the importance of keeping them and the consumers they serve safe from this deadly disease."

National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay stated that the industry has "invested billions of dollars to provide protective gear and trainings for [retail] associates and to make the necessary changes to achieve and exceed health and safety recommendations."


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