Employees at the Hazeldene’s chicken processing plant In Lockwood, Australia, are getting vaccinated for COVID-19 at an on-site clinic hosted by Bendigo Health.

Bendigo Health has been actively vaccinating meat and poultry plant workers in the Loddon Mallee region through mobile clinics.

“Last year, we saw (the) coronavirus spread across many meatworks in Victoria,” Bob Cameron, chairman of the Bendigo Health board, stated in a press release. “We know because people in these industries work in close proximity and in damp environments, coronavirus can spread much quicker, so it’s important these people are vaccinated to protect these industries and jobs.

Hazeldene’s plant in Lockwood had to idle operations for “a number of days” in 2020, due to a COVID-19 outbreak among staff members. It is a situation the company’s director, John Hazeldene, hopes to avoid in 2021 and beyond.

“We had 800,000 chickens growing every week. We could process them because it’s automated, but didn’t have any workers to pack them so we wasted so many birds. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever been through in business,” said Hazeldene.

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“Our workers realize they don’t want to go through the mess of last year and don’t want to be out of work. Having the vaccine come to us is great. It’s easy when it’s done at work. It’s going to put us in a better position, making us, our jobs and the community more secure.”

Because of the impact of the pandemic in Australia’s state of Victoria, and a government order to reduce the workforce at meat and poultry plants by 33% in an effort to curb the coronavirus, companies such as Hazeldene’s were put in a bind. However, in August, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) granted an urgent interim authorization for Hazeldene’s, Ingham’s and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation to cooperate on a range of measures relating to their plants, aimed at ensuring sufficient supply of chickens and chicken meat, reducing the extent of any job losses, and managing the impact of the stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria on chicken growers and other parts of the supply chain.

Hazeldene’s, according to the Poultry International Top Companies survey, is Oceana’s sixth largest poultry producer, slaughtering 35.3 million broilers annually.

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