Over 53,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 269 of them have died since the pandemic began, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network. But industry workers will have to hang on a bit longer to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The nation’s biggest union for meatpacking workers in the United States, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, along with the North American Meat Institute in a letter called on all governors to classify meat and poultry plant workers as “very high priority” to receive vaccinations.
“Meat and poultry establishments are top employers in rural communities that can experience challenges with access to adequate health care,” the groups said in its statement.
Jim Sheehan, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Hormel Foods, said none of its plant workers had been vaccinated yet.
"But we're anxiously awaiting for our opportunity," Sheehan said.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the state's providers had administered 239,910 doses of the vaccine as of Jan. 20. Minnesota's plan to administer vaccines is still in Phase 1a, which consists of frontline healthcare workers (an estimated 500,000 people).
Food and agricultural workers are part of Phase 1b, which consists of around a million frontline essential workers. According to MDH, Phase 1b could start receiving the vaccine late this month or early February.
In South Dakota, agricultural and food workers also are not far away from having vaccines available to them. The South Dakota Department of Health reported on Jan. 19 that Phase 1d, consisting of residents 65 and older as well as high-risk patients would soon begin. So far the state has administered over 58,000 vaccine doses, according to its dashboard.
After Phase 1d (approximately 250,000 people) concludes, Phase 1e will start. Phase 1e is the group that includes critical infrastructure workers, which food and agricultural employees are defined as in the state.
North Dakota, a state which has gotten credit for its high vaccination rate, has administered over 63,000 vaccines so far, according The North Dakota Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard.
Currently, North Dakota is on Phase 1b of its priority groups. Food and agricultural workers are in the group to follow, Phase 1c.
Responses varied from farmers and agribusiness representatives polled by Agweek at recent farm shows on whether they would receive the vaccine or not.
Gene Kenkel, salesperson for Soil Solutions in Onawa, Iowa, said he was not sure yet if he'd be willing to receive the vaccine.
According to the last U.S. Census of Agriculture, the average age of the U.S. farmer is around 58, putting them in the "at risk" group for COVID-19.
"I plan on doing it," Gordon Andersen, a farmer in Centerville, S.D., said of the vaccine. "I have underlying conditions and my wife has some serious conditions and I'm all for it."
Daniel Fixsen, who farms in Wabasso, Minn., was not on board with getting the vaccine.
"I don't think I'm going to," Fixsen said. "I think by the time they get out to our neck of the woods most of the population is going to be vaccinated anyway."
AgweekTV Anchor Michelle Rook contributed to this report.