Trade Groups Seek Vaccine Priority

Healthy workers ensure that food supply chains continue operating.

November 17, 2020

WASHINGTON—Fifteen trade associations representing different areas of the food, beverage and CPG industry have asked President Donald Trump to give them priority for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is developed and to create a federally orchestrated vaccine distribution program, reports

The groups made the requests in a letter to Trump dated Nov. 11. They also discussed these issues with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team. 

"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 letter stated.

Last week, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that early results indicate the company's COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective, and this week, Moderna said its experimental coronavirus vaccine was 94.5% effective in an early study. Some insiders believe a vaccine could be available to priority groups in early 2021.

For months, the food, beverage and CPG industries have lobbied government officials to get a vaccine early. In June, 15 groups requested that food and agriculture workers be given the next highest priority for getting the vaccine, just behind health-care workers, first responders and high-risk individuals.

"Worker absenteeism remains a concern in manufacturing facilities, posing a threat to the maintenance of consistent inventories of life-sustaining products," said Betsey Booren, senior vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at Consumer Brands Association. "Without early vaccinations, the CPG sector risks the absence of skilled workers due to illness."

That lobbying has worked, and many states' draft plans have prioritized food processing and agriculture workers for a vaccine once it’s available. In addition, the trade groups want to ensure that there is a national distribution program in place. 

In the past eight months, more than 72,000 food system workers have tested positive for coronavirus and at least 329 have died, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Farm workers and meat processing plant employees were hit especially hard.

The trade group’s latest letter to Trump said that so far "challenges have taxed the food supply chain," but the "supply chains have not broken."

As COVID-19 continues to spread, so does optimism that a vaccine will soon be available. And industry groups are working to ensure their employees will be among the first to get it. 

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