Kansas to earmark COVID-19 doses for meatpacking plant workers

Titus Wu
Topeka Capital-Journal
In this April 27, 2020, file photo, a Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Emporia, Kan.

The state is sending out additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to counties earmarked specifically for workers in meatpacking plants, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Thursday.

It comes as a similar program for teachers is set to end this week in an effort to reopen schools.

"We faced uncertainty about the virus, our economy, the food supply chain," said Kelly. "Despite all that, our dedicated meat workers stepped up... they continued to make important contributions to our economy often at risk to their own personal safety."

She acknowledged that many meat-packing workers are part of Hispanic communities, disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Recently released data showed racial disparities in which Kansans have gotten the vaccine so far, and this effort would help close that gap.

"All meatpacking workers who want to be vaccinated can be by the end of next week," the governor said.

An estimated total of 12,000 workers could get the vaccine, and half a dozen counties such as Seward, Ford and Finney will benefit.

This move by the governor to prioritize meatpacking workers within Phase 2 of the state's vaccine distribution plan was a result of the push by many, including the meatpacking industry.

"Kansas is among the first states to offer vaccinations to our workers on a very large scale," said Tim Klein, from National Beef. "Our operations are critical to livestock producers and other businesses up and down Kansas main streets."

Meatpacking plants have been a common hotspot for the virus across the nation, despite efforts to implement COVID-19 protocols.

As to how to overcome skepticism of the vaccine from meatpacking workers, Kelly said it will be an ongoing effort of outreach though the Hispanic-Latino Affairs Commission and meatpacking companies.

"Employees ... will rest a lot easier tonight knowing that steps are taken during this critical time to protect their health and safety," said Dodge City Commissioner Blanca Soto.