There are currently three different options the vast majority of meat processing plants are considering for getting the COVID-19 vaccine to administer to employees, KatieRose McCullough, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at the North American Meat Institute, noted during a recent National Pork Board webinar.
For the larger plants that employ 4,000 or more employees, they’re looking to become an approved vaccine provider, McCullough explained. These plants have nurses or qualified individuals on staff to administer the vaccine as well as the capacity to store the vaccine.
The second option some plants are taking is by contracting with a local clinic or similar medical provider to administer the vaccine. Many medical companies have larger plants on retainer given the extensive testing that has been necessary since COVID-19 emerged, McCullough noted.
Some plants are choosing to work with their local pharmacy. These companies are reaching out to their local Walgreens or grocery story pharmacy to create a plan, McCullough said. These companies are providing a list of employees to the pharmacy so the employees can get the vaccine as soon as it is available.
But, getting vaccine prioritization is just the first hurdle for many of the processing plants as many people are still skeptical about the vaccine’s safety and symptoms.
Surveys from across the country showed that only 20% of employees in some plants were willing to get the vaccine. In other plants, 60% of employees are willing. The plant’s culture and the community’s culture where the plant is located is a large influence on the amount of vaccine skepticism you get, McCullough noted.
As such, there is acute focus on vaccine-positive messaging to address many of the concerns surrounding the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided a communications toolkit that can help educate the workforce.
McCullough said administering vaccines will not happen overnight and will likely take weeks in order to keep employees safe and keep the food supply secure.
JBS USA and Pilgrim’s recently announced a $100 incentive bonus to any U.S. team member who voluntarily chooses to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
“Throughout the pandemic, JBS USA and Pilgrim’s have adopted industry-leading measures to protect our essential frontline workers who continue to provide food for the nation,” said Andre Nogueira, chief executive officer of JBS USA. “Our goal in offering this extra pay to our team members is to remove any barriers to vaccination and incentivize our team members to protect themselves, their families and their coworkers. With nearly 66,000 U.S. team members, we are hopeful this initiative will lead to high vaccination participation rates that will benefit our workforce and the rural communities and cities in which they live and work across America.”
Chris Gaddis, head of human resources at JBS USA, relayed that internal surveys had revealed a willingness in team members to get vaccinated, with participation rates at individual facilities ranging from 60 to 90%. “We recognize that some team members in our diverse workforce may have concerns or be less inclined to get vaccinated. The incentive bonus is designed to encourage voluntary vaccination and provide an additional measure of support to our team members who have given so much to society and our country during this pandemic.”
JBS USA and Pilgrim’s have also launched internal education campaigns to emphasize the safety, efficacy and importance of receiving the vaccine to its workforce.