Why these food industry groups are asking for COVID vaccine priority

This year might get a happy ending after all. Early trials of COVID-19 vaccines show a lot of promise, and millions of people could get the shots that will protect them from the disease by the end of the year (via Boston Globe). But the vaccine likely won't be available to the general public until April 2021, and people in different parts of the food industry are asking if they can get near the front of the line.

Groups representing farmers, meat packers, grocers, and restaurants were among those who signed a letter to President Trump on Nov. 11, asking that their workers be a high priority for the first doses of vaccine. The food industry groups said the federal government should follow a playbook already written by the CDC that has a list of who should be first to get the vaccine, which includes health-care workers, essential workers who aren't in health care, adults at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness, and the elderly. The food industry asserts that it fits squarely in the second category. "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 letter said.

COVID-19 cases are high among food industry workers

Workers in the food industry have been exposed to the virus in large numbers, according to data collected by the Food & Environment Reporting Network. The numbers change daily, but as of Nov. 17, nearly 73,000 U.S. workers in meat packing, food processing, and farming had fallen ill from COVID-19, and at least 331 died. A recent study showed that grocery store employees are especially vulnerable, too. About 20 percent of grocery store workers included in the study tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, compared to a rate of about one percent in the general population at the time (via Healthline).

Reddit users on the Coronavirus subreddit generally supported the idea of people in the food industry going toward the front of the line for a COVID-19 vaccine. "Outside of medical professionals and those with pre-existing medical conditions, this makes a lot of sense," Reddit user Animecat365 said. "Food workers are potentially exposed to a s*** ton of COVID AND they deal with the food we eat."

Reddit user wkuace posted, "... [T]he jobs that keep the country running, safe, and fed should definitely have priority. I'm fine waiting a extra month or 2." Finally, Reddit user buonatalie had a personal take on who should get the vaccine first: "I'm working at a grocery store right now and would reaaally like to not have to worry about getting COVID and dying every time I go to work."