The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) – the largest union representing workers in the food processing and retailing industries – is calling on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prioritize essential workers in grocery, meatpacking, and food processing for early COVID-19 vaccine access.

In a press release issued on December 1, CFCW said it is urging the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunication Practices to recognize the extraordinary service these essential workers provide to keep the country fed, as they work on the frontlines while the pandemic persists.

“America’s grocery, meatpacking, and food processing workers have been on the frontlines of this deadly pandemic since day one, putting themselves in harm’s way to feed our families during this crisis. As COVID-19 cases skyrocket, hundreds of these essential workers have already died and thousands more are infected daily as they serve our country by keeping our food supply secure,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone.

“As the largest union for America’s essential workers in grocery, meatpacking, and food processing, UFCW is calling on the CDC to prioritize these brave men and women for early access to the COVID-19 vaccine immediately after health care workers. Protecting our country’s food workers is essential to keeping our communities safe and stopping future outbreaks in these high-exposure workplaces. CDC Director Redfield must recognize the vital role these essential workers serve by ensuring that they are among the first to receive access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Health experts agree the CDC must prioritize essential workers like those in grocery, meatpacking, and food processing for early vaccine access, with these workers facing daily risk of exposure to COVID-19 as the pandemic continues.

“These essential workers are out there putting themselves at risk to allow the rest of us to socially distance. And they come from disadvantaged situations, they come from disadvantaged communities,” said Beth Bell, a University of Washington global health expert and ACIP member who chairs its COVID-19 vaccine working group.

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UFCW recently confirmed the rapidly growing impact of COVID-19 on frontline workers. New numbers show that among the union’s members, there have been at least 350 frontline worker deaths and at least 48,000 frontline workers infected or exposed.

In meatpacking plants, the union confirms there have already been at least 128 meatpacking worker deaths and over 19,800 meatpacking workers infected or exposed.

In grocery stores, the union reports there have already been at least 109 grocery worker deaths, including over 17,400 grocery workers infected or exposed to the virus.

UFCW represents 1.3 million food and retail workers.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.