NORTHFIELD, Minn. ― The POST Consumer Brands manufacturing plants in Northfield hosted a second dose on-site employee vaccination pop-up on Thursday, April 15, made possible through its collaboration with Rice County Public Health.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz launched a campaign earlier this spring focused on connecting workers in critical industries to the resources they need to get vaccinated. This past week's outreach effort was focused on connecting manufacturing employees with vaccines, said Andrea Vaubel, deputy commissioner with the MDA.
"We're really trying to get people in manufacturing, if they haven't already, to think about getting vaccinated," Vaubel said. "And this is a really great opportunity with POST."
Representing the ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves, MN’ campaign at POST Consumer Brands on April 15 was Thom Petersen, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
"Food processing and food production were critical agricultural sectors right away during the pandemic, if you think back to where we were a year ago," Petersen said, referring to outbreaks and shutdowns at plants last spring. "So to have those people continue to work, those companies make adjustments to work with their employees, and a year later to be able to be vaccinating people is really amazing."
Minnesota continues to rank in the top 10 for states in vaccine rollout, said Petersen, and local public health departments are the driving force behind that.
"Our partnerships with our local public health and emergency management departments has been so valuable," Petersen said. "We couldn't do it without them."
Public health delivers
Vaccination rollout is probably the biggest job that Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst has been tasked with in her 37 years working in the department.
"We're happy that the state has worked with us to supply vaccines because we can actually get into the communities and come to spots like this," Purfeerst said. "The community knows us, we're a trusted partner, and I think local public health is set up very well to vaccinate our population."
She said that POST was a "wonderful partner" for on-site vaccinations.
"We were here about a month ago and vaccinated about 450 of their employees," Purfeerst said on April 15. "And today we're doing the second dose for those employees."
Rice County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Tracy Ackman-Shaw said that POST was the first manufacturing employer that the county was able to come on site to do vaccinations.
"This removes the barriers of someone having to drive somewhere else and get in, and we were able to control what worked," Ackman-Shaw said. "We scheduled around their shift changes, and really had good success here."
The completion of mass on-site vaccinations had Ackman-Shaw reflecting on the year it's been. For the county, the first half of the pandemic was spent educating people around the impact of COVID-19 and prevention. The second half has been all about getting the community vaccinated.
"A year ago, we were just learning about this disease and seeing how it impacts us," she said.
Purfeerst, a farmer herself, said she's been encouraged by the enthusiasm to get vaccinated from workers in the ag industry as well as farmers.
"As soon as the prioritization schedule permitted us to reach out to our ag industry, we were definitely interested in doing that, because we know the ag industry is very critical to Minnesota," Purfeerst said.
She said the county was able to reach out to farmers not long after that to "strongly encourage" them to get vaccinated.
"We promoted it as being able to get vaccinated before they were busy in the fields doing spring work," she said. "Most of our farmers who wanted to receive the vaccine have already reached out to get it."
Core of its manufacturing
Ben Bergstrom, director of the POST manufacturing site in Northfield, said the company encouraged all employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"We're really happy to be able to pair with Rice County, which provided us with the easiest way to get our employees vaccinated," Bergstrom said.
At the manufacturing plants that POST has in Northfield, Bergstrom said there's around 700 employees altogether.
"We're primarily operations, so we've got operators, mechanics, a number of engineers and some administrative staff," Bergstrom said. "Really, this is the core of our manufacturing here in Minnesota."
Products made at the facility are company branded and private labeled cereal and Malt-o-Meal. That includes popular cereal varieties such as Golden Crisp, Shredded Wheat, Raisin Bran and Honey Bunches of Oats.
Bergstrom said it was a smooth process for the first dose pop-up and the April 15 event to come together. It started with Rice County Public Health reaching out to the company to say it was looking to set up large vaccination sites for critical manufacturing infrastructure.
"In a week or two timeframe, we were able to get everything set up, get the vaccination times and get our employees signed up to get the vaccine here on-site," he said.
Natasha Anderson, COVID-19 lead coordinator at POST in Northfield, got her second round of the Moderna vaccine on April 15.
"It's really nice and really beneficial, not just for our employees but for the community of Northfield," Anderson said of the on-site pop-ups.
Dustin Allen has worked in various roles for POST for more than 10 years, and currently works as an environmental health and safety technician.
"I'm really excited and ready for things to go back to normal, and this feels like I'm doing my part to get there," Allen said after receiving his shot on April 15, which he said was painless. "With the nurses and everyone working this event, it's very much appreciated, and amazing getting this here."