Meatpacking plants begin vaccinating workers against COVID-19

The COVID-19 vaccine could bring relief for the nation’s meatpacking plants, which have been areas of high concern since a slew of outbreaks last spring.

Foster Farms has begun vaccinating workers at a California poultry plant, in partnership with the local department of health and Vons Pharmacy. According to Meat + Poultry, the company began offering the vaccine to the plant’s 1,000 employees on February 2, with a second dose planned for early March.

The company said the vaccines are being offered at no cost to workers, and employees will be compensated for the time they spend getting vaccinated. While vaccination is voluntary, the company said it expects most workers will get it. Company officials said they’re using a multilingual program to educate workers on the vaccine.

According to the Food & Environment Reporting Network, more than 56,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19, and at least 277 have died, since the onset of the pandemic. FERN has counted 569 outbreaks at meatpacking plants, although those numbers are likely an undercount.

Foster Farms’ announcement followed soon after JBS and Pilgrim’s Pride said they’d pay workers $100 to get the vaccine.

It also comes as a U.S. House subcommittee launches an investigation into how meatpacking plants have handled the spread of the virus. Successful Farming reports that the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has asked the country’s top meatpackers—JBS, Smithfield and Tyson—as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for information on their management of the virus. The companies and OSHA have a response deadline of February 15.

OSHA at the beginning of the month strengthened its worker safety guidelines, recommending face coverings and reconfiguration of workspaces so workers are at least 6 feet apart.

“Wearing a face covering is complementary to and not a replacement for physical distancing,” the document said. “Limit the number of people in one place at any given time” through remote work, staggered work times or rearranging worksites. “This may require modifying the workspace or slowing production lines.”